Who Owns The Privacy?

Online privacy has become an issue that finally has bled outside of the realm of behavioral targeting and it is quite rightly taking its place in discussions of ad spending, publishing and targeting of all kinds. We have been weaving it ever more deeply into the coverage at MediaPost's own OnlineMediaDaily (courtesy of specialist Wendy Davis) and the programming of the OMMA shows themselves.

At last month's OMMA Behavioral, the Interactive Advertising's Bureau's point man on public policy, Mike Zaneis, walked us through the new effort to create standardized iconography and messaging around disclosure about data collection and tracking, opt-outs, etc. Zaneis  says that the IAB and its partners in the cross-industry consortium working on the project will run over 1 billion ad impressions this year to get the word out.

While some may say that the campaign is too little too late, he argues that the regulatory and legislative groups he lobbies in Washington are appreciating the effort. According to the analytics on the ad campaign, 10% of the ads being delivered get moused over, which in many cases expands the ad to offer information about ad targeting. The next wave of the effort will involve standard icons and labels that will run with ads and on publisher Web sites. For the full presentation, you can access the video/audio of Zaneis' talk here.

While the industry initiative to implement and enforce self-regulation may be slower to market than many expected, it is dovetailing with rising concern that privacy matters to everyone's bottom line. Next week in San Francisco at OMMA Global, we are taking the privacy issue that usually sits in a track about ad nets or behavioral targeting, and instead moving it into the track for publishers. The panel on Wednesday -- "Can Publishers Take Ownership of Privacy?" -- will address the critical problem of how the privacy issue ultimately will have to be taken up by the place where consumers have a direct relationship, the publisher.

I think publishers are going to have to take a good deal of the ownership of privacy and be much more aware of the policies of the partners they use. For the last several weeks I have been using the latest iteration of the Ghostery plug-in for Firefox. This tool tracks the trackers. It shows the user which ad nets and other analytics programs are using unique identifiers with your browser.

What I find really interesting here is the new pop-up window that superimposes the identities of the trackers on every page on which you land. From Google Analytics to ad exchanges and data providers, the full list gets daunting quickly at some sites. Now a part of the experience of landing on any site is seeing very clearly from the outset which cookies and beacons are at play.The net effect of this process is fascinating, because it gives the user a peek at a publisher's business model and the aggressiveness of their data strategy.

Does such knowledge change my browsing habits? No, not yet. Does it change my relationship with the publisher? To a degree. I now have a stronger sense of how the publisher is leveraging and placing value on my presence. In an indirect way, greater transparency about user tracking reinforces the notion that consumer behaviors have a cash value in the media economy. In making the case that targeting is critical to the survival of online media, publishers and advertisers are also making the case with consumers that their attention has value and that the user herself may be able to barter some of this value more effectively. As a consumer, the publishers appears to own my privacy protection, because they are the ones most obviously profiting from my data.

I was speaking with a senior ad agency executive the other day about the trends in digital advertising this year. He was among the first on the buy side to make the strong case to me that spending and privacy are going to be linked. As agencies develop demand-side platforms  that aggregate audiences and inventory on behalf of clients, then the now-familiar question "who owns the data" becomes more insistent among publishers, third-party data providers and ad networks.

"Privacy and who owns the data are opposite sides of the same coin," he told me. "Until we get to the solution of both those issues, it renders the value of online media as specious." In other words, until the advertisers (or even the publishers, for that matter) know what they can extract from the data they collect and how it can be used, then it is difficult to price advertising. "Resolving the privacy issue in turn informs who owns the data, which informs how online display media is priced," he argued.

Now privacy is inextricably entwined with the publisher's and advertiser's bottom line.  

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4 comments about "Who Owns The Privacy?".
  1. Joshua Furman from Joshua R. Furman Law Corp. , March 12, 2010 at 3:30 p.m.

    The time-honored suggestion has always been that if publishers are transparent about their uses of information, then users can make informed and trusting decisions about how much information they provide.

    That way, the "privacy" isn't owned, it just is--and advertisers and consumers both know where they stand. Information aggregators who see themselves on the opposite side as consumers on this issue only make policies and procedures that make consumers see *themselves* on the opposite side... and less willing to provide their information.

    Transparency and easy choices for consumers are the win-win of information aggregation because it flattens the power structure while allowing the information to flow. Not to mention, consumer-oriented aggregation effectively mitigates the threat of liability for violations of privacy laws now and in the future.

  2. David Hawthorne from HCI LearningWorks , March 12, 2010 at 4:49 p.m.

    I know why the reasonable expectation of privacy is always trumped by the remote possibility of profit. It is why there is regulation. It may be reasonable to expect privacy, but it is also reasonable to expect a lack of decency in the calculations of media barons. So regulate away. Save me from the self-discipline of marketers, stock brokers, and bankers alike. dh

  3. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited , March 12, 2010 at 5:32 p.m.

    It is the individual consumer's who owns his/her own privacy. Period. Not one iota more. It's not for sale and none of the aggregate's business.

  4. Howie Goldfarb from Blue Star Strategic Marketing , March 13, 2010 at 1:13 p.m.

    Brands and Agencies and Websites and Mobile Operators beware. People want privacy. Biased people like Pete Cashmore at Mashable who profit from promoting exploitation of people via social networks thinks differently. But study after study show we want privacy.