Mobile Menace: Will App-Related Privacy Concerns Spill Over To Email?

Email marketers should remain at least moderately alert to the privacy issues surrounding mobile, given the growing percentage of emails being delivered on devices.

Indeed, privacy advocates are skeptically eyeing the space and could influence legislation, judging by a recent paper, Targeting and Privacy in Mobile Advertising, by Omid Rafieian and Hema Yoganarasimhan.

First, some background. Mobile in-app advertising is now the dominant form of digital advertising, but while “these ads have excellent user-tracking properties, they have raised concerns among privacy advocates,” the authors contend.

This is due to the different types of targeting information. There are two types: behavioral and contextual. 

“Contextual information is privacy preserving, whereas behavioral information is based on user tracking and therefore impinges on users’ privacy," the authors write. 

But wait a minute — email being a personalized medium, relies on both behavior and context. 



If someone abandons a cart, they may get an email. If they order they get a confirmation. And if they have provider permission, they may received promotional offers and alerts — even as they enter a store, holding their cell phone. 

Mobile apps may be different, but behavior still has to be a factor when actual purchases and inquiries are being made via the app. Is a brand required to “forget” such information?

And the way things are going, any new regulations regarding mobile could easily spill over into email. 

The authors argue that an “ad network’s revenue is maximized when it restricts targeting to the contextual level even though doing so lowers total surplus; that is, allowing behavioral targeting thins out the market, which, in turn, reduces ad network revenues.”

They continue that “the ad network has economic incentives to adopt a privacy-preserving targeting regime, especially if it cannot extract additional surplus from advertisers through other mechanisms.”

That may be true when we’re only dealing with questions of ad inventory.

As for advertisers, while a majority prefer “a regime where the ad network allows behavioral targeting, not all do.”

The researchers add that ad networks’ economic incentives may remove the need off the FTC or EU to impose regulations. When has that ever been true?

But it’s hard to argue with their conclusion: that ad networks “have economic incentives to preserve users’ privacy in the mobile advertising domain.”


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