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September 30 2010 3:19 PM

Why your privacy is not being invaded 
by online behavioural advertising

There are a lot of people complaining about privacy these days. And they have a point. As people publish more and more of their personal data, many of them understandably think that they are leaving themselves open to exploitation.

But I can’t help wondering: are they not also exposing themselves to a slightly better way of doing things?

What got me thinking about this was a fantastic seminar on data protection, part of which covered online behavioural advertising (OBA). Online behavioural advertising is a practice that is based on internet browsing activity and allows brands to deliver adverts to web users which reflect their interests. It’s safe, transparent, and designed to empower you, the consumer.

And this is the interesting bit. It is designed to empower consumers - to make their lives better by giving them fewer irrelevant, intrusive ads, and more stuff that they actually enjoy receiving. So why do many people still see it as ‘Big Brother’ behaviour, and therefore undesirable? It seems that the answer lies in their ability to control it.

One of the speakers at the seminar was a guy called Stuart Colman from AudienceScience. He spoke about a survey that his company undertook regarding OBA. They asked people whether they were comfortable with being tracked online. 23% of the respondents said yes. When asked the same question with a caveat that they had the ability to stop or decline online advertising at any time, the response rate went up to 74%.

And of course online targeting does not take into account your personal details such as your name and where you live, but simply targets you according to your online behaviour. For example, if you have visited a number of travel sites, it will take this into account and serve you ads based on your searches. It actually helps to bring to you relevant messaging and offers onto the sites you visit. 

For me, transparency is key. If you are given the choice to opt out of something, you are automatically given back control. You will also understand why you are being shown various messaging. I think the whole process is really clever and is a great way for brands to advertise online. 

Based on the fact that personal data is not part of the equation, I don’ t think that this form of advertising is an invasion of people’s privacy. It’s a step forward.

As a consumer, you can always opt out if you don’t like it. But as a B2B marketer, you really can’t afford to ignore it - because it works. 

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