As Seen In: iMedia Connection
When I heard about Google entering the behavioral targeting (BT) market, I was reminded of the “good news/bad news” situations of my teenage years. The good news was that the captain of the football team thought you were cool enough to come to your party. The bad news was that he left with all of the girls.
In case you missed it, on March 11, Google announced it would begin targeting ads based on consumers’ interests and online behaviors. When a leader like Google — certainly a homecoming king if there ever was one — enters a market, it definitely serves to validate the existence of that market. But should the rest of the entrenched BT industry fear or embrace their arrival? Here are some interesting points to consider in the debate:
1. Focus on consumer preference options as core to BT
One of the hallmarks of Google’s announcement has been the company’s focus on the consumer and their right to have a level of control with regard to how they’re being targeted. Google enables users to edit the interests for which they will be cookied and served ads, with a diverse array of categories and sub-categories.
I applaud Google for enabling users to select the categories for which they can be targeted, and for raising awareness of consumer rights. However, others in the industry including Audience Science (formerly Revenue Science) and Tacoda have already been giving users the right to centrally opt-out, and eXelate lets users opt-in and out of not only interest categories, but also captured demographic information including age, ethnicity and sex.
Plus, Google’s feature only allows for control and opt-out over Google-collected data, whereas exchanges and even industry groups like the Network Advertising Initiative (NAI) offer centralized consumer management of data collected from multiple sources.
2. Oblige other ad networks to embrace a similar code of consumer preference management
By throwing the company’s weight behind an important issue like consumer preference management, Google will make other ad networks follow suit. Though most ad networks enable users to opt-out and control how ads are served to them, it’s not always easy to exercise these controls. With Google’s entry into the market, expect to see most ad networks streamline and simplify their consumer preference options, making them easier to find and implement. I believe that in 2009, in addition to having the option to manage targeting preferences directly on an ad network’s site, consumers will also be able to click directly on network-delivered ads or even the publisher’s own privacy section in order to identify and change the nature of ads and information they’re being served.
3. Advance the privacy debate
There has been concern throughout the BT industry regarding impending legislation since late 2007, when the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) solicited feedback from the public regarding proposed self-regulatory principles for online behavioral advertising. Recently, the FTC decided not to impose legislation, but strongly hinted that if something wasn’t done, the hammer would drop.
I believe Google’s announcement and focus on consumer preference management will further reduce the likelihood of legislation, at least in the short term. Google’s skill with media management — coupled with the fact that it pulls a good deal of weight with the current administration — doesn’t mean we are in the clear yet, but we do have some more breathing room. If we, as an industry, can use this window to prove that we’re indeed making strides to be more transparent with consumers and their information, we can continue to reduce the likelihood of legislation.
At the end of the day, Google’s “fashionably late” entrance to the BT party will not only prove to benefit targeting companies, ad networks, and ad exchanges, it will ultimately be a win for consumer data rights and stronger self-governing privacy guidelines. Now, if we can just make sure Google leaves some punch for the rest of us, the celebration will really go on!