BT and Privacy, Part 2: Tacoda's Choice

If you want to get the word out about an ad targeting model and its privacy policies, then, well, advertise it. Tacoda, Inc. recently launched a "Consumer Choice" campaign across its network that explains the company's approach to behavioral targeting and gives users opportunities for opting out of the system. In this ongoing series of interviews with top executives about their approach to the privacy issue, CEO Curt Viebranz explains Tacoda's proactive approach.

BI: What specifically is Tacoda doing to give consumers more control over how they opt-in or out of its network?

Viebranz: This past November, we launched the Tacoda Consumer Choice Initiative where, among other things, we have now started to proactively provide all consumers with robust notice of the types of anonymous information that Tacoda captures, what we do with that information, and a direct "opt-out" link should any consumers prefer not to participate. We have just launched this program through the use of in-page banner units. We expect to serve several hundred million of those notices in 2007. The consumer is taken to the Tacoda Web site, where we describe our business and the benefits of targeted advertising. They can then choose to opt-out and get taken to the NAI Web site. There they can opt out of Tacoda Audience Networks, as well as a number of other NAI members' offerings. If they opt out, a Tacoda cookie is set and our targeting engine knows not to serve them an ad.



BI: Do you advise your publishing partners in the network to inform users about the ways they are being cookied by a larger BT network?

Viebranz: The publishers' privacy policy will refer to the existence of third-party cookies and to the fact that data is used to target ads by other than the publisher. But as you point out, it's a hard concept to grasp for the average consumer, which is why we are taking our own steps.

BI: Does the BT industry need some standardized way of dealing with consumer privacy concerns? A consistent opt-out process, maybe?

Viebranz: [We] already have a great standardized way to deal with consumer privacy. It is the Network Advertising Initiative (NAI). They developed a set of principles for the capture and use of consumer preference information, with specific guidelines for notice and providing either opt-in or opt-out, including a consistent, centralized opt-out mechanism for all companies in full compliance with the principles. These principles also prohibit the capture or use of personal information without robust notice and opt-in from consumers. These principles have been endorsed by the Federal Trade Commission and are a model, in our opinion, of how industry self-regulation can help drive better consumer experiences in areas like this. Tacoda is proud to be a full compliance member of the NAI. Unfortunately, while many of the other largest online ad serving and targeting companies... are full compliance members, the [number] of companies that have adopted and fully comply with these standards is still too few.

BI: Are some non-complying companies in the BT space? What kinds of non-compliance do you see as most threatening to the reputation of the industry overall?

Viebranz: We comply with NAI guidelines and we believe that anyone that is doing networked BT and targeting across sites should be willing to adhere to the same standards. Many of our competitors are not willing to sign up for NAI... you'll have to ask why. Parenthetically, a lot of the folks who claim BT capability don't really have it. The most threatening behaviors from our perspective would be targeting against PII without express permission, or targeting against sensitive, non-personal information such as medical conditions and the like.

BI: Tacoda's Dave Morgan has been quoted frequently warning that unless the industry gets proactive about privacy, the issue could 'blow up' in their faces. In what way?

Viebranz: Tacoda is concerned that consumer privacy is such an important and sensitive issue that we could very well see a blow-up around it this year. It could be a company that makes a mistake and releases information that they shouldn't. It could be a company that accidentally combines anonymous data with personal data. It could be from a bad actor that it looking to make money without putting in the hard work to protect consumer privacy. We think that if we are proactive in explaining what we do, that consumers and our peers in the industry will recognize and be able to separate the good and careful players from the bad.

BI: Are you getting any concern on the part of advertisers about how privacy is handled in BT networks or even how consumers might perceive the kind of targeting BT practices? Is there still discomfort about how the technology works?

Viebranz: I can't think of a single instance where an advertiser has opted not to run in our network because of privacy concerns or because they are uncomfortable with BT. Admittedly, they would not necessarily tell us--but I will tell you that the broad adoption of our network by large, well-known advertisers speaks to their comfort levels. At the publisher level, and because our network is populated by some of the largest and most recognized branded sites, we will regularly have a compliance discussion with the publisher's counsel to answer questions and to get them up to speed on how our network works. Again, there has not been a single instance where a publisher cited privacy as a barrier to affiliation with Tacoda. From a consumer standpoint, our stance is to be at the forefront of protecting consumer privacy and complying with all rules and regulations. At the end of the day, however, perception is reality--and if there is consumer backlash, we need to have separated ourselves as much as possible from questionable practices.

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