Somebody’s Watching Me

Did you ever have the feeling that somebody is watching you? Tracking your every search, click and purchase online? ISPs collecting web traffic data can make web ads even more targeted and effective. On the other hand it is kind of creepy. Some even say that it is the ultimate invasion of privacy. This is called behavioral targeting, which has been a very controversial subject. And many companies that practice it have faced litigation by privacy advocates.

We found out last week that a privacy lawsuit against behavioral targeting company Adzilla and its partners was recently settled. Adzilla stopped operating in the U.S. in 2008, but did not acknowledge any wrongdoing as part of the settlement. They did agree that they will “require opt-in consent of consumers or any consent that may be required to avoid violation of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act” should the company resume ISP-based targeting in the U.S.

This settlement leaves the issue unresolved as to whether it’s legal to target Web users based on data purchased from Internet service providers. NebuAd (now out of business) still faces a lawsuit for working with ISPs to collect data about users’ Web-surfing activity in order to provide targeted ads.

What makes this issue even more interesting is that the FTC, who normally sets advertising deception and privacy standards, came out with a 48-page report on behavioral targeting last year and really set no standards. Instead, they decided to let marketers self-regulate behavioral-marketing privacy issues, rather than introduce government regulation.

I believe rather than the FTC trusting marketers they are simply confused and don’t know what to do. The government has traditionally been behind when it comes to new media regulation and I think they are simply taking a wait and see position. I guess we’ll have to let the courts work out the standards and hope the industry picks up the regulation ball.

2 thoughts on “Somebody’s Watching Me

  1. Adzilla and NebuAd get your web activity data from your ISP without you knowing about it. It is not voluntary, self edited information. It is all your actually activity.

    It is like someone listening in on all your phone conversations. You talk about a personal problem in dealing with drug abuse and suddenly you are getting a bunch of sales calls for drug rehab. This is different than a research company calling and asking for your thought on a subject and giving some demographic information.

    You may have given permission for this in the small print when you signed up for Comcast or Verizon Internet and didn’t even know it.

  2. We’ve studied how to target audiences and tailor advertising, marketing, and public relations campaigns to those target audiences.

    How is the process that Adzilla and NebuAd uses any different than companies that ask customers to fill out questionnaires or take part in focus groups? Aren’t they getting the same information?

    They’re just gathering information on people, culling them into groups, deciding how to spend their resources marketing to each groups, and then tailoring their campaigns to try to bring in the most business.

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