Privacy Getting in the Way

“You have zero privacy anyway, get over it.”
– Scott McNealy, Jan. 1999

Once again we have “privacy concerns” being used to squash efforts to make advertising more effective by targeting it at people likely to want it.

Cable and phone companies say their growth increasingly depends on being able to deliver targeted advertising to their Internet and TV customers, but criticism from privacy advocates is threatening that strategy.

[From Free Preview – WSJ.com]

I admit to having mixed feelings about this. On one hand I simply don’t trust cable companies but on the other I have to wonder what the worst that could come of this is. The risk for privacy advocates is that they are the boy who cried wolf… what damages have actually been incurred because online behavioral data was made available to advertisers. Indeed one of the most successful online advertising networks of all time is Google Adsense and it is predicated on having context to online content that you are viewing or searching.

I’ve written about this many times before, advertising should have some utility and the first step in providing that enabling a better understanding of what I do in order to predict what I want. Online advertising should not be as it is today, which either relies on tricking someone into clicking on it, or as is the case with interstitials, forcing it in front of someone.

What is more troubling about this debate is the effort by some to undermine the rights of businesses offering services by demanding they attach privacy rights where there are none, public online spaces, and at any rate it is well established that it can be voluntarily sacrificed in exchange for some service or product benefit. This is exactly what happens every time you do a search on Google, login to Facebook/Myspace, and watch cable television, as well as a hundred other things we do on a daily basis.

We are currently running a pilot that takes advantage of Myspace’s hypertargeting for distributing widgets. The USA Today Pop Candy widget features content from the very popular column written by Whitney Matheson, featuring celebrity and entertainment news. What we are doing is taking advantage of the profile tags generated by Myspace for every user profile, then “suggesting” the widget based on alignment of those tags to the Pop Candy widget.

Why is this important? Well for USA Today they can drive distribution of their widget, which really just means extend their brand deeper into prospective audiences, in a more efficient manner than slamming an IAB compliant widget through an ad network and hoping people pick it up. For Myspace users they get the promise of more relevant content based on what is inferred by analyzing the content that is already on their pages.

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