Consumer privacy and behavioral targeting by marketers appear to be diametrically opposing forces. These forces are headed for a showdown, observed Gord Hotchkiss in a recent Online Spin article entitled, The Coming Storm: Search and Consumer Privacy.
The early signs of things to come appeared in a complaint filed by The Center for Digital Democracy and the U.S. Public Interest Research Group with the Federal Trade Commission. They cite user tracking, web analytics and behavioral targeting as “invasive and deceptive” online advertising practices.
Performance Metrics are addictive for Search Marketers. Companies use cookie and login based systems designed to track user behavior and provide analytic capabilities. ROI metrics justify decisions and provide a rational basis for advertising spend. Executives armed with defensible marketing metrics have nothing to fear from scrutiny; every campaign can directly assert revenue. The more the advertiser understands click through, conversion, latency and customer value for each key phrase in each campaign and channel, the more efficiently they can target spending.
Consumer have long stated a tremendous concern from privacy coupled with a inexplicable willingness to give up personal information for an unlikely chance of winning prizes or obtaining a discount on products and services. These concerns pale in comparison to the double whammy of Big Brother and Big Corporations abusing our privacy. The DOJ subpoena of search records in January and the release of search logs by AOL in August drove home the fact that using a search engine reveals information that is far more personal than your name or your social security number.
Some pundits have suggested that the market might solve the problem, that an engine like Ask.com or MSN could offer strong privacy guarantees such as not logging queries with any other information as a competitive angle to try dethroning Google. While that would be a step in a positive direction, the problem goes beyond search; it is built into the information age and the solution must be technology driven.
Consumer demands for privacy will become fertile grounds for demogogery unless we proactively address the problem. Few observant users should believe that the government is the answer. What we need to develop is a technology solution that splits the horns of the dilemma and aligns the forces for privacy with those of behavior targeting. What is needed is a seamless avatar system that allows marketers to track clicks and conversions, allows search engines target behavior and allows users to enjoy the internet, including search and ecommerce, WITHOUT sacrificing anonymity.
What we need is web browsing with a plain brown wrapper.