The Government, Not Advocates, Will Drive the Privacy Debate

As agencies conglomerate and content providers focus on the value of their data, Washington will take notice

The Federal Trade Commission announced yesterday that it will host a two-day Town Hall on issues of privacy with a specific focus on behavioral tracking and targeting. Coming on the heels of the AOL purchase of behavioral ad network Tacoda, Google’s intentions to buy DoubleClick, and Microsoft’s purchase of aQuantive, this is a fair warning to the content and ad industries. Details of the FTC Town Meeting and its agenda are here.

Ironically, this new and more focused attention on BT (behavioral targeting) by agencies of the government is a good sign of just how mature and evolved the interactive marketing economy has become.


A number of people in the interactive marketing and publishing industries have told me recently that the wave of buyouts demonstrates how the online-ad game is all about technology now. The years of talking about better targeting finally are coming to a head as search engines, ad networks, and content providers begin to collect the necessary toys for putting the full potential of interactive targeting into practice. Yahoo already uses search-keyword data to better track and target its users. Microsoft’s AdCenter has folded behavioral segments into the targeting mix. And Google had to retract a public slip by one of its executives last week when she mentioned that the engine was going to move into the behavioral realm. Make no mistake, BT is the next big thing in online advertising and it is bound to attract the attention of legislators.


The FTC called this Town Meeting, in part, as a result of hearings it held late last year on the topic of online privacy and advertising and, in part, because of petitions from advocates. But don’t be surprised to see publishers trying to use privacy as a differentiator and helping to fuel the controversy. Marketers and publishers have never before had such tools for tracking and targeting users. Frankly, the industry has done a poor job of preparing for this day when the government and advocates ask who is guarding our data and how will it be used? Individual publishers and networks have many good and bad answers to these questions, and that is the problem. If this industry is advanced enough now to network our profiles across thousands of sites and target our recent activities – even our search histories – it is mature enough to agree to some common standards all consumers can count on.


About Michael Stroud

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