Ad Industry Executives Join Forces To Preserve Cookies
Cory Treffiletti, Safecount co-founder and managing director of the San Francisco office of Carat Interactive, said it's in everyone's interest to give advertisers the tools to understand basic information about individual consumers. "Based on this information, advertisers can serve ads that are timely and relevant to individual consumers, while limiting the number of times consumers are shown an advertisement," said Treffiletti.
Until recently, it was widely assumed that consumers did not delete cookies in any significant numbers. But a spate of recent studies, including a Jupiter Research report revealing that 40 percent of Internet users say they delete their cookies at least once a month, indicated otherwise.
"We definitely created a monster when we released our cookie report," said Eric Peterson, the Jupiter analyst who authored the controversial study. "But I do think it's encouraging that we're moving beyond the bickering about the numbers and on to larger efforts to resolve this issue."
Nick Nyhan, Safecount's other co-founder and president of the market research company Dynamic Logic, said that the online industry has gone too long without a resolution to the measurement issue. "The Jupiter case was just a symptom of a larger problem," said Nyhan. "We're not downplaying very real concerns that have existed for consumers about privacy protection. We want to address them and avoid the arms race we're heading towards with consumers, where each move is countered by another and no one gets anything out of it."
Nyhan added that measurement's woes included--but extended beyond--just cookies. "I don't think we should be writing the obituary for cookies just yet, especially when the degree to which they are effective is still being explored," Nyhan said. "But this debate is much larger than just cookies; we'd still be having this debate if another measurement device were in the place of cookies right now."
Jupiter's Peterson, however, questioned whether the world needs another organization to address measurement tools and consumers' perception of them.
Safecount is working with one such organization, the Network Advertising Initiative, as a sponsor of its "eCommerce in the Age of Spyware" event in New York City on May 12. The Network Advertising Initiative e-mail service provider coalition has been working broadly for five years to inform consumers about Internet advertising practices and how it affects them and the Internet.
Trevor Hughes, executive director of the Network Advertising Initiative, said he supported Safecount's efforts. "While we've been working toward similar standards for five years, that seems to be their only concern--which could work in their favor."
While Treffiletti believes that anti-spyware companies have largely contributed to cookies' poor image, he also said that such companies must be given a voice in future talks to resolve the issue. "Anti-spyware companies can't be ignored, nor can they be dismissed as the bad guys," Treffiletti said.
Eric Howes, a spyware researcher who operates SpywareWarrior.com, a Web site devoted to problematic anti-spyware tools, said it was legitimate for agencies and researchers to try to protect their measurement methods--as long as consumers were informed. "Anti-spyware vendors tell me that consumers often just want all cookies to be deleted, and I do think it's a problem when anti-spyware vendors don't do more to educate consumers, but consumers still have to be given an opportunity to make a decision even if it's the wrong one."
Representatives of the new coalition include advertisers, consumer advocacy groups, ad agencies, market researchers, publishers, advertising technologists, and policy analysts. Executives who have already expressed support include industry leaders such as Brian Monahan, a vice president and interactive media director at Universal McCann; Dave Morgan, CEO of behavioral targeting company TACODA Systems; and Mike Zeman, associate director of insights and analytics at Starcom IP, a unit of Starcom MediaVest Group.