Behavioral targeting is the latest buzzword being bandied about the conference rooms and offices of advertising firms everywhere. Simply put, it is a marketing technique wherein advertisers track and analyze online activities in an effort to display the most relevant ads to end-users. Advertising executives insist that consumers ultimately benefit when presented with ads most germane to them. Consumers, on the other hand, have not warmed up to the idea. A comprehensive study conducted by the University of Pennsylvania and the Berkeley Center for Law and Technology revealed that 65% of adult US citizens feel that behavioral targeting techniques are semi-Orwellian and invasive.
Behavioral Targeting 101
Have you noticed that the ads popping up on your computer are more and more relevant to your location, lifestyle and needs? You may even sometimes think to yourself, “How’d they know I was in the market for X?” Simple: companies that collect and study behavioral data assign a unique identifier, known as a “cookie,” to your computer. Every page you visit is recorded, along with every click of the mouse. Most companies also track how long you stay on each page. In the past, advertisers could only keep track of user activity on their own website, but these days corporations can keep track of your online behavior even after you leave their site.
How does behavioral targeting work? Let’s say you do an online search for “cat toys” and spend half an hour reading about the importance of cat exercise; advertisers will then analyze your tracking cookie’s behavior and most likely make the determination that you’re a cat lover. And before you know it, cat related ads are served up to your computer.
What Type of Info is collected?
The majority of firms that use behavioral targeting could care less about your name, address and phone number. For sales purposes, what advertisers really want to uncover are the types of websites you visit, how long you spend online, and the phrases you pump into search engines.
Is Behavioral Targeting a Form of Unsolicited Marketing?
Profiling advocates regularly extol the virtues of behavior tracking. Their argument: “It’s better for everyone when consumers are fed product and service ads that are of genuine interest to them.” Detractors, on the other hand, contend that users aren’t always aware that their digital footprint is being tracked, and therefore the practice of behavioral targeting is an invasive form of unsolicited marketing.
Is Behavioral Marketing Cause for Concern?
If privacy is among your primary concerns, start keeping tabs on the cookies that land on your computer. While there’s currently no evidence that the collected data is being used nefariously, a few behavioral marketing campaigns have, indeed, crossed the line. Most notably, social media behemoth, Facebook, faced a major setback when their program, Beacon, launched. Among other things, Beacon would automatically alert your “friends” of any online purchases you made! The Facebook community’s backlash was swift and cutting; a class action lawsuit was filed; Beacon was quickly shut down and the Zuckerberg crew embarked on an international mea culpa tour.
Online marketing is a complex topic. In recent years, however, regulators in the United States, Canada and European Commission have been trying to hammer out regulations and guidelines aimed at protecting individual privacy rights.
In the meantime, always remember that what you do (and type) on the Web, stays on the Web…forever.
For more information about online privacy laws or behavioral targeting, contact a qualified Internet lawyer.