- von Tora Söderlind
- Nov 4, 2011
In my last blog, I touched upon the contentious issue of data tracking, and the bad reputation that’s doggedly following it around in the media. Wall Street Journal, in particular, has been championing various alarmist stories on data; after all, it makes a better story to portray the online advertising industry as a data-grabbing, inconsiderate bully, out to aggressively target everyone, without consideration of privacy.
The most recent of WSJ’s articles outlined a new potential development in terms of data and targeting. Visa and MasterCard have drafted documents to investigate the possibility of using credit card purchase information for online advertising. The WSJ article reports that the initial proposals have been shared with selected ad companies for “exploratory conversations”. Though the technology is still evolving, if it were to be implemented, it would be mean that offline purchases would crossover into targeted online advertising, using the data segments from Visa and MasterCard.
With the distrust and dislike of the financial world in general at an all-time high in light of the recession, this did not sit well with the WSJ readers. The knee-jerk reaction from the article’s comments section is one of outrage. Whether or not Visa and MasterCard should even be thinking of selling data to advertisers appears to be a moral, rather than financial, issue, when in fact what’s really driving it is just that: money. Visa and MasterCard are looking to make profit by selling access to the data they have, but, based on the comments, it’s seen as a violation of the right to privacy, with people feeling that the companies have abused the trust consumers ultimately have to put into financial organizations.
One comment on the article summed it up rather well: “We used to be just the people buying the products. Now we’re the product being sold“. The irony is that the data (segmented, bucketed, targeted) is being bought and used by advertisers in order to serve better, more relevant and contextual ads back to the online consumer. At plista, our RecommendationAds focus on just that: using behavioral algorithms in order to enrich the online experience with contextually relevant ads. Naturally, the bottom line is to make money, but advertisers and marketers these days have realized the power of the consumer, and are now bending over backwards to try to accommodate and pre-empt what they want.
Another (though not as vocal) stream of thought from the WSJ article comments was one of ownership and potential benefits of using data. If consumers can have their say in and benefit from a piece of the data pie, the condemnation of advertisers, Visa and MasterCard seems to lessen somewhat. Says one commentator: “It would be nice to be able to choose who gets your data. I think it would be nice to only see ads that I want to see… I would like targeted ads if they are for my benefit“. And another, slightly more care-free: “I must say that, in spite of privacy concerns, I like the idea of actually receiving advertising that is relevant to me. Imagine that an ad comes to me on a web site that is for a product that I already buy and that the timing of the ad coincides with my purchase history. Go one step further and give me a discount on it and I am all in, privacy be damned!”
And WSJ, despite its history of stoking the data tracking fire of fear, announced only in September that it too would start tracking its readers’ browsing data in order to enhance the user experience. Websites in the Wall Street Journal Digital Network now “connect personally identifiable information with Web browsing data without user consent” in order to provide more customized content. The network stated the data would not be used for targeted advertising purposes unless “you choose in advance to have your Personal Information shared for this purpose”. Data doesn’t have to be the enemy: the fact is, it can be both useful and beneficial for publishers, advertisers and consumers.
I’ll end this blog with one final enlightened comment from the WSJ article: “Important and appropriate distinctions help to differentiate between potentially invasive use of personal information and other, benign and even helpful uses of data in anonymous ways. Without those distinctions, the topic too easily deteriorates into scaremongering by privacy purists”. Here’s to more understanding between advertisers and consumers. Stay tuned for next week’s blog, where I’ll be outlining the various initiatives that have been taking place to make that understanding easier.
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