A BT Platform By Any Other Name Might Smell Much Sweeter -- Or Maybe Not

Behavioral targeting companies could have done a better job naming and marketing their specialty. Perhaps people would have become a little more accepting and a little less squeamish, if they understood the technology and if BT had another name. Or, have privacy concerns become too overwhelming?

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.

2 comments about "A BT Platform By Any Other Name Might Smell Much Sweeter -- Or Maybe Not".
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  1. The digital Hobo from, September 2, 2009 at 5 p.m.

    What you call it is less of a concern that what the companies in the BT space were doing.

    Leaving out the few well known BT companies that we knew we could at least trust with our money, too many of the companies pushed the boundaries of the technology without adequate inventory, ad supply, or scale of users. Even if the technology worked as advertised, it could never deliver the kind of results and/or lift that people were promised.

    Worse, there was flat out lying about what was going on in the business. Again, leaving the well respected names out, too much nefarious behavior put a bad light on the whole space rather than just a shady company or two. Same with ad networks. They aren't all scam artists, but that baby drowned in the bathwater.

    Andy, Jeff Hirsch, Dave Morgan - all good faces for the BT space. But not everyone took as high a road as they did. Now the space as a whole suffers.

  2. Robin Caller from LOLA GROVE, September 3, 2009 at 3:54 a.m.

    I think this article is utter nonsense. The premise seems to focus on the failure of the behavioural targeting companies to educate consumers. Utter Poppycock. They didn't even want to educate their clients and business associates.

    Even today, place tracking and profiling pixels in thousands of websites, in direct breach of the stated website privacy policy. It's not an intelligent and considered defence to say "we've advised our suppliers that in order to comply with this commercial transaction they are required to alter their privay policy, and hence our responsibility is discharged". So, the premise that behavioural targeting has been tarnished by a few practitioners is some "industry insider" nonsense that fails to grasp the international laws which control the privacy of citizens across the globe.

    The bottom line is that the behavioural targeting companies represent a sector of practitioners whose actions will, without exception, lead to government investigation, legal review, and ultimately accelerate the introduction of regulatory bodies. It seems like it's going to take a bunch of people who do not work in the online advertising industry to make it sit on the naughty step and reconsider what is acceptable behaviour.

    I'll stop now before entering into a tirade against capitalist values gone wild, leading to government ownership of just about everything (banks, insurance, automotive have already gone) and ultimately a funny version of State control... and just say "poppycock".

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