Personalization Puts Focus On BT In 2010

Yahoo introduced Monday a beta version of a privacy and advertising dashboard that lets consumers check out the "interest categories" created by their online behavior, and opt out of "interest-based advertising altogether." The company bills the feature, Ad Interest Manager, as a tool that lets Yahoo visitors "assert greater control over their online experience."

In a similar move, Google released a dashboard earlier this year called Internet-based Advertising, which lets consumer manage the settings associated with Google products, and advertisers to deliver ads based on hundreds of categories and historic interactions with people. The beta opened to a handful of advertisers, but the plan was to expand shortly after.

Expect Microsoft and AOL to follow by aping the technology from Yahoo and Google. Personalization of the Web and real-time search will make behavioral targeting a focus in 2010, though not all are concerned about giving away a little information for a more focused ad.

In an online survey from market research firm Synovate conducted in September, 32% of respondents said they remains open to having their Web-surfing and television viewing habits monitored to receive ads more relevant to their interests, as long as the data collected could not identify them as individuals.

Another 8% revealed they would be open to monitoring with "few, if any, concerns." But 35% would reject the technology because they remain concerned about monitoring services collecting data about them. Meanwhile, 9% said they were not interested in changing the ads to which they are exposed.

BT and privacy don't seem to concern the five college students who participated in a consumer panel discussions at the MediaPost Search Insider Summit last week in Park City, Utah.

Among the group was Beau Hennings, a freshman of environmental studies at the University of Utah, who doesn't think he's computer-savvy enough to give it much thought. Mitch Sturges, a senior majoring in music at the University of Utah, doesn't have concerns, specifically when searching in Facebook.

"If someone is going to go to all that trouble to determine what I'm searching for, perhaps they would be entertained," says Katie Hathaway, a sophomore studying linguistics and computer science at the University of Utah. "I am cautious about some things. A lot of ads will ask for your phone. My sister put her phone number in an entertainment quiz and they ended up charging her $30 to her phone account. So we're careful about personal information."

Sometimes the ads that run during TV shows online at sites like Hulu don't make sense, according to the students. While watching "Flash Forward," Sturges received a targeted ad for a birth-control patch. Hathaway typically gets targeting with ads about feeding kids and car loans. Still Jenn Mathews, also known as @SEOGoddess, said something in these students' respective profiles on Hulu triggered those particular ads.

Once students graduate, however, there does seem to be a change in attitude. When they move on to face the reality of finding a job and working in the real world, they seem to become more concerned with privacy and targeting.

Take 25-year-old Elizabeth, for example. She doesn't want information in her Facebook account, Hulu profile, or searches and clicks across the Internet to influence the ads she sees on sites where she catches up on watching weekly TV shows.

As a recent graduate of a master's program in psychology, Elizabeth says she remains cautious when giving away information. She works as an intern counseling kids ages 10 to 16, many of whom have a Facebook page. (I've changed her name to maintain her anonymity for that reason.)

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