A similar issue cropped up in the radio frequency identification (RFID) and the near field communication (NFC) industries.
The NFC Forum, which spearheads adoption of NFC, defines the technology as "a short-range wireless connectivity technology standard designed for intuitive, simple and safe communication between electronic devices." The technology is used in contactless transactions, such as payments and transit ticketing.
Similar to RFID, engineers tell me NFC operates on radio waves. But unlike NFC, RFID had a stigma because companies relied on the technology to track products through the manufacturing supply chain, from production to the retail store floor.
Privacy advocates lobbied against the use of RFID technology. One problem was that companies manufacturing RFID technology didn't educate consumers on how it worked. IBM did release a television commercial years ago that showed a man in a trench coat walking out of a store looking very suspicious. It seemed as if he'd stolen something, but the TV spot tried to relay that the RFID tags affixed to the merchandise he bought showed that he'd actually paid with an electronic debit card.
When companies began to use RFID to track people, the NFC Forum backed off and tried to disassociate RFID technology from its brethren, NFC.
I told this story to Andy Monfried, founder and CEO at Lotame, who says the events that took place in the RFID and the NFC industries sort of describes BT. He says perception is 99% of the battle. So, he began to rename BT, starting with "relevant targeting," "relevance targeting" or "anonymous precise targeting," something that would reflect anonymity of the consumer.
"Call it historical precision around anonymity, or HARP, something different that doesn't sound like an invasion of privacy," Monfried says. "Behavioral targeting sounds like an invasion of privacy."
That's what a coalition of consumer protection and privacy groups think, too. On Tuesday, representatives from consumer protection and privacy groups asked the House Commerce Committee to stop marketers from collecting sensitive data online and require them to tell consumers the type of data being collected and the reasons they will use it.
The coalition identifies "sensitive" information as health, finances, ethnicity, race, sexual orientation, and political activity.
The marketing and advertising strategy, "created to influence consumer decision making," starts with behavioral ad targeting from companies, such as Google, Microsoft and Yahoo, as well as social networking, sources of offline data like point of sale (POS) cash registers, smart ads and data collection services in rich media ads, the groups explains.
The coalition includes Consumer's Union, Consumer Federation of America, Center for Digital Democracy, Electronic Frontier Foundation, U.S. PIRG, among others. They say the data collection invades people's privacy, especially when marketers integrate offline data from POS cash registers.
The IAB and technology companies offering targeting services have had nearly 10 years to self-regulate the industry, but failed to offer appropriate third party opt-out systems, according to the group.