Editorial: Interesting But Useless

Maybe the privacy whackos have a point.

iMarketing News' new e-mail services provider, CheetahMail, offers the ability to see who clicks on which articles in the DM News and iMarketing News e-mail newsletters.

A colleague dropped by carrying a list of such e-mail addresses last week.

“Want to see who read your editorial this morning?” he asked.

“What do you mean?”

“We can track who clicks on stories now,” he said. “Here is a list of people's e-mail addresses who clicked on your editorial this morning. I just thought you might like to see it.”

He handed it over.

Scanning it immediately resulted in a minor, but persistent, case of the creeps.

People read in anonymity, or at least they believe they're reading in anonymity.

Imagine the shock that could be delivered by simply sending an e-mail like the following:

“Hey [email protected], thanks for reading my editorial this morning! Frankly, Bob, I'm honored that you valued it enough to read it with your Monday morning coffee. While I'm here, Bob, are there any topics you'd like to see addressed in the future?”

No, it's safe to assume that Bob would not like that type of contact at all.

Scanning the list further revealed that not one of my closest colleagues' e-mail addresses was on it.

Heck, my advertising-executive girlfriend's address wasn't even on it.

That night, I said, “you didn't read my editorial today. I know because I got a list of everyone who read it and you weren't on it.”

“Well no, I didn't read it. Was I supposed to?” she said and then went back to whatever it was she was doing.

And there you have it: another bone-chilling example of the unprecedented power the Internet gives us to gather personal information and diabolically lord it over others.

Oh, she was acting nonchalant, alright.

The point too often lost in discussions on Internet privacy is that yes, one can gather unprecedented types of information online, but that so far, evidence says it's not worth gathering.

In fact, so much of that information turned out to be so useless that we are now in the combination worst ad market and tech slump in recent memory.

As a result, a lot of the high-tech, online-ad-targeting talk has died down — and mercifully so.

“The days of 'I can find someone interested in golfing and target them on a swimming site' are over,” said one online ad buyer.

Remember when online advertising was going to subsidize everything? Remember Engage Technologies Inc.'s original promise?

Engage placed cookies (tracking technology) in computer hard drives to monitor Web surfers' clicking behavior. It then supposedly scored their interests in 800 marketing categories on a recency, frequency and duration basis.

The idea was that as someone got closer to buying a car, for example, they'd visit auto-related sites more frequently and the visits would last longer, resulting in a higher score in that category. Once they bought the car, their behavior would change and their auto-related scores in the Engage Knowledge database would drop accordingly.

Engage exited the advertising and media businesses in September. Apparently those profiles weren't worth the premium Engage needed to charge to make them worthwhile.

Technology is not driving the online ad market anymore. Advertisers are buying tonnage now.

And if they are targeting, more and more, advertisers are reportedly checking site demographics to see whether they match their desired target.

So while privacy advocates howled for years over what they perceived as marketers' over-intrusiveness online, in the end, the market itself is governing the use of personal data for ad targeting purposes quite nicely.

DMA Still Backs 'Opt-Out'

A quick point of clarification: A lot of people are apparently interpreting the Direct Marketing Association's new e-mail guidelines as an endorsement of opt-in e-mail marketing. They are not. While the guidelines are an unprecedented endorsement of permission e-mail marketing for the DMA, they still designate opt-out marketing as the minimum standard for e-mail.

It will be interesting to see how the DMA's new middle-ground position manifests itself in the spam debates.

Before the new guidelines' release, anti-spammers at least knew to hate the DMA. Now anti-spammers must decide whether they can or cannot work with a somewhat kinder, gentler DMA, but one that still hasn't embraced their position.

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