Microsoft: Privacy, Data, Ad Targeting Hit Crossroads In 2010

by , Jan 20, 2010, 2:00 PM
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This year advertisers and consumers will get answers on privacy, data and ad targeting. So says Jeff Lanctot, who joined Microsoft Advertising from Razorfish in late 2009 after the Redmond, Wash., company sold off the agency to Publicis Groupe.

Privacy discussions among industry members and government regulators will come to a head either by a "clash of ideology" or "confluence of good thinking," says Lanctot. The discussions will focus on ways to determine self-regulation and/or pending FTC or congressional legislation, Lanctot tells me. "The industry needs to reach an agreement on the definition of 'free content' between advertisers, content providers, and consumers," he says.

When I ask Lanctot if consumers really believe they have privacy on the Internet, he responds, "Do they have it, or do they care?" So, as we hash out the difference between consumer privacy and protecting data, he makes sure I understand that Microsoft believes consumers deserve as much data protection as the company can provide.

Think about privacy when targeting ads, which typically doesn't rely on personally identifiable information (PII). It's not like the protection required by private data, such as social security card numbers.

Still, the advertising industry needs to demonstrate to consumers it understands the value that comes from using the non-PII data. You've heard it before: yes, that means serving up the correct message to a specific person at the perfect time.

Microsoft realizes consumers need to see a benefit when agreeing to share data, but the company also must take the responsibility of helping people understand how the process works, and that it doesn't have to be scary. "Some view targeted advertising as a bad thing that we should repress, while others in Congress and the FTC know self-regulation can work," he says. "My sense it that those who know more about the ad businesses understand how to put those self-regulation tools in place."

On another privacy-related note, Tuesday Microsoft reported it would reduce the time it retains IP addresses tied to search queries from 18 months to six months. Microsoft's Chief Privacy Strategist Peter Cullen wrote in a blog post that the "change is the result of several factors, including a continuing evaluation of our business needs, the current competitive landscape and our ongoing dialogue with privacy advocates, consumer groups, and regulators...

"Under our current policy, as soon as Microsoft receives a Bing search query we take steps to de-identify the data by separating it from account information that could identify the person who performed the search," Cullen writes. The new policy will take between 12 and 18 months to implement.

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