Do politicians understand behavioral targeting?

Josh Gordon from Knotice and the The Lunch Pail left me an update to his comment on my Politics of Behavioral Targeting post. He summarizes a round table entitled “Privacy and Behavioral Targeting: A Capitol Hill Perspective” that took place at the Shop.org Annual Summit 2008 last week in Las Vegas.

It gives an excellent run down of the current issues for Behavioral Targeting in the wake of NebuAd (Josh’s link). And outlines some of the industry’s attitudes to the politicians and players. Josh points out:

Here’s a scary tidbit. No one at the table (insiders and all) believed Senators, members of Congress, or any of their staffers actually know what they’re talking about when it comes to defining private information online or how the technology works. The quote from Martino is, “Senators and staffers are devoid of understanding the marketplace.” Yikes.

But, before I’ve scared anyone off, there’s hope for some forms of targeting. The ire of the consumer groups is focused primarily on affiliate and ISP level targeting, not at all on domain or onsite level targeting. It doesn’t appear that onsite targeting will enter the conversation because it’s hard to quantify legally. It’s no different than going into a physical store and seeing conditioner next to shampoo on a shelf because it’s a complementary product. Once you’ve walked into a store, you’ve effectively “opted-in,” just as once you’ve entered a website to shop, you’ve also “opted-in.” The debate becomes obviously silly if onsite targeting ever comes under attack.

and, hits the nail on the head with,

Before I leave you contemplate all of this, I’ll reiterate a point I’ve made on this blog before. I can’t help but wonder if this debate would have happened if a public relations firm had stepped in and articulated the reality we live in by saying, “You know what, industry? Behavioral Targeting is a bad, bad name for this stuff. Consumers don’t want to feel targeted, like Big Brother is following them around trying to get them to spend more money. Instead of Behavioral Targeting, let’s call it Marketing to Un-Authenticated Site Visitors.” Though it’s far less catchy, it’s more descriptive and less likely to be the bamboo under consumer advocacy groups’ collective finger nails.

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3 Responses

  1. Thanks Josh. Scary stuff, as you say, playing politics with technology when they don’t understand it. But I think you have outlined the levels well. Tracking usage at an ISP level is very different to doing it at the site level and should be clarified in the terminology – for all involved. Cheers, Chris.

  2. […] thanks to Chris Bishops for the link on his blog “Beyond Digital Media.” Chris has a healthy interest in behavioral targeting and its impact on both the industry and the […]

  3. Thanks a bunch, Chris! I’ll link back to this from Knotice’s blog, too.

    I think you’ve hit on one of the larger takeaways from all of this, and that is that lawmakers don’t seem to fully grasp the nature of this technology. Rather than regulating the technology or corporate practices, for example, they’re trying to regulate the entire Internet. That’s a bad idea.

    I sure enjoy reading your blog. Keep it up!

    Josh

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