BT And Privacy, Part I: Opt-Out On-Demand

FTC hearings late last year re-energized discussions over privacy and consumer choice in online data collection. As the model du jour, behavioral targeting is getting its share of scrutiny, while the BT networks enlarge and major players like MSN launch new targeting products. And so, in the coming weeks, BI will poll the industry by interviewing executives at the top BT firms to flesh out their stand on privacy policies, consumer education, and industry-wide standards for implementing BT opt-out.

Roy Shkedi, CEO of post-search BT network AlmondNet, recently proposed a common practice whereby every ad served by a BT network offers the opportunity to opt-out of behavioral tracking. Shkedi thinks the process could be an opportunity to assuage consumer worries about privacy, but at the same time educate them about the real benefits of opting in.

Behavioral Insider: You propose as an ideal solution to privacy concerns an opt-out opportunity in every banner ad served across a BT network. First, why is it important to do this in every ad served?



Roy Shkedi: The way I see it, people do not need to understand about computers--how to find cookies, and which cookie is related to which server. If they see an ad that offends them in any way they should have the option to opt out. Educating people sounds good, but it is very difficult. What we really want to provide people with is an opt-out. But it should be an opt-out from any ad, so they don't need to... find [a particular] cookie to erase. One of the main reasons that some people erase all their cookies is they have no idea which cookie is associated with which ad, etc. I believe we need to put the consumer benefit first.

BI: But in the case of a behaviorally targeted ad, how would consumers know what they are opting out of?

Shkedi: That is exactly the point. I think every ad should be branded "powered by AlmondNet" or "powered by Google" or "powered by Yahoo." If users would click on "powered by" it doesn't take you to the AlmondNet home page, but to a dedicated opt-out page. We tell them that this is AlmondNet and we have no idea who you are. This is what we do. We believe there is a benefit to anonymously targeted ads over non-targeted ads If you do not agree with us and still find this offensive then please click this button. But please note that we advise you not to erase the AlmondNet cookie because then you will see more of our ads. That is the first phase We are considering whether we need as a second phase to offer people which categories they would like to opt out of.

BI: It seems to me that an opt-out system almost begs for also offering users some sort of value ad for remaining opted into the system.

Shkedi: The value is in the content. Relevant ads give value to the consumer and they are extra income for publishers, which provides better content. The behavioral targeting industry does not make more ads; it just makes ads that are more relevant to the consumer. And so the compensation for opting in is already there.

BI: Yes, but at some point that bargain needs to be explained to users in order for the privacy issue to become less important to them.

Shkedi: This is why I think we need to make it simple. What is the solution today? I see an ad I don't like and I find offensive? What can I do? There is nothing I can do. So if I am reasonably educated I check which ad server served the ad, which cookie was associated with that server and I erase that cookie directly. But [in this plan] all the consumer needs to know is that, I click that link and go to a dedicated page that explains this is what we do and this is the value you get. If you don't agree, then click here. In my opinion, it makes the education much simpler because they don't have to learn about cookies or become experts in ad servers.

BI: On a practical level, what form would these links take? There is only so much space in a banner, and one has to wonder what impact such a plan would have on creative issues.

Shkedi: A text button could be a different color. I am sure smart people in this industry can put their heads together and come up with different solutions. Like in a rich media ad, an icon or X with mouse-over that says opt-out, for example.

BI: Do you agree with Dave Morgan of Tacoda that the privacy issue could well 'blow up' in the industry's face if not handled properly?

Shkedi: The way I see it, like every other new technology, if it develops without keeping the consumer in mind-- then it can blow up in the industry's face. But that said, I think if we come up with solutions that are good for the consumer, I see no reason why it should blow up. If the industry were to adopt the opt-out strategy I suggest, why should anyone blow up when they are only one click away from opting out?

Once again, if I am the consumer and I am given the right to opt out, there is no reasons to be upset. It really comes down to what would we like to do. The danger with new technology is that someone will exploit it to the extreme. In behavioral targeting's case, that danger may be ads that embarrass a consumer. Or it could be someone who will correlate personally identifying information (PII) with non PII. If I do what is right for the consumer, then it will benefit the company long-term.

Next story loading loading..