Online advertisers may not know you, but based on your browsing habits they have a pretty clear picture. The industry’s now noted our complaints and hopes to make targeted ads more transparent, but is it enough?
Two guys are enjoying a beer in a bar. A few feet along is a gorgeous brunette. One guy says to the other, ‘I reckon she’d let you buy her a drink’, the other, ‘What? How come?’ The guy nods knowingly, ‘I know a fair bit about her, she’s got a partner but could be tempted elsewhere – you’re definitely her type.’
‘Interesting’, says the other, ‘Tell me more.’
‘Well, where do I start? She’s just been to the South of France and she loves her French cuisine – wine and dine her at that little Primrose Hill bistro – it’s her favourite, not the mussels though, she’s allergic. Drop into the conversation that you’re a gardener, sing opera and love any rom-com and she’ll be all yours.’
‘Right, thanks – I’m off! Oh yeah? What’s her name?’
‘No idea! Why would I know that? That’s personal data!’
The joke’s on you
Yes. I’m a lawyer – so maybe I’m the only one smirking at the punchline! But I do think this joke illustrates the absurd double standards that are taking place in the online world.
All this information and more is being collected about you as you journey through the web – your likes and dislikes, online purchases, movie ratings, even where you go. This means that companies, like our guy at the bar, get to know your most in-depth personal information.
But as the data they collect is nameless and faceless, the industry’s claiming that it doesn’t fall within the definition of ‘personal data’. This means it’s beyond the grips of our Data Protection Act, which would otherwise control its collection, use and retention.
Behavioural advertising and you
Ad networks are the backbone of this lucrative and growing industry and they’re making a mint from your data. Knowing your ‘behavioural profile’ means that far more relevant ads could potentially come your way.
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. When we asked over 1,000 members of the public – 54% said they’d prefer to receive relevant ads online. However, we don’t think that this should be going on behind-the-scenes – you need to be given a choice about whether you want targeted ads or not. ‘Transparency and Choice’ is our mantra.
Is the industry doing enough?
After 10 years or so of serving up targeted ads to an unaware audience, the industry is finally beginning to get its act together.
Their answer is www.youronlinechoices.com. A site put together by the Internet Advertising Bureau (IAB, and note it’s industry funded) which gives consumers the opportunity to opt-out of those networks that have signed up to IAB’s ‘Good Practice Principles’. Any ads served by those networks should also have a logo in their corner which you can click on to opt-out.
It’s a step in the right direction but still a long way from providing full transparency and choice. The important questions seem to be left unanswered. Exactly what information is being collected? What data is it matched with? What is done with it? Who is it given to? How long is it kept for? What other technologies are used? And what networks haven’t signed up?
We’ve responded to IAB with our thoughts and I’ll be in Brussels next month highlighting our concerns to the European Commission. Do you think YourOnlineChoices.com is good enough, or should the industry do more to inform us and let us opt-out of behavioural advertising?