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There has been a lot of noise recently surrounding the new legislation on online tracking and the use of cookies and permission. Marketers must sit up and listen to the potential underlying threat this legislation can pose and consider whether a new approach to transparency and education can head off the threat now and in the future. 

It seems most of the controversy is based on the typical ambiguity that seems to exist in many online rules and regulations. Because, let’s face it, the situation is meant to be led by public opinion, with the legislators supposedly following suit. The public want to be “protected” from evil online marketing spies, who are poised and ready to sell something at the first sign of interest.

Or do they?

The study last year commissioned by the Universities of Pennsylvania and California seemed pretty damming for the US attitudes to behavioural marketing, with 66% of respondents thinking tailored ads were “not ok”. When told how tailored ads were achieved, even more objected!

I’m wondering how many would have put their hands up in support of non targeted, irrelevant and intrusive marketing, “Hell yes, give me some of that!”

Seriously though, this would suggest that people don’t want targeted advertising, which is interesting, as anyone in the direct marketing business knows, it’s very effective! So could this be another instance of looking at what people do, not what they say. I’m sure Amazon improves their customer experience by adding “those who brought this, also bought...” and I bet plenty of people click on the links too.

So, what does this mean to the marketer?

Are legislators going to force people to opt in to cookie tracking before they can use a website? I don’t think so; the European Parliament has already debated the subject and it seems that it “doesn’t” require “prior” consent (based on advisory documentation released at the time). But this obviously doesn’t suit the privacy evangelists, who are still desperately snapping at the heels of the behavioural marketing industry, in the name of consumer interest (they say).

However, the fun comes when you consider that local member states still have to implement this directive by May 2011; and although the IAB stated when the directive was released that an opt in prior to tracking was not required, it’s still not cast in stone.

On the face of it, the UK marketing industry might have dodged a bullet this time, but it will still be easy for legislation to be interpreted another way, if there is enough public outcry to justify it. So we can’t rest on our laurels. Action needs to be taken now to head off any need for far more restrictive legislation in the future.         

The favoured view seems to be one of “prior consent” being the action of enabling (or not disabling) cookie tracking in your browser. For people who are concerned about cookies this means web browsers that are easily user configurable give you privacy options you can set BEFORE you go browsing; so when you enter a website you already have YOUR chosen privacy settings in place. And after all people visit websites because they choose to, not because they are being forced by the marketer.  

Data protection and privacy are an important part of the development of the internet, which relies on mutually beneficial collaboration. Consumers should be confident to share data, and it should be seen as vital that consumers are educated to the benefits of behavioural tracking. Companies should be as transparent as possible about the data they collect, and the use to which they put it. It can’t be left to the privacy evangelists to educate the consumer in how behavioural marketing works.

The internet is fast, it’s convenient, it can be intuitive; buts to be all these things it also needs to be an information exchange, with transparent data and tracking policies. We must ensure internet users are sufficiently educated, to be confident to share the data that is required. This will not only power the way the internet works now, but also to fuel its development in the future.  

Matthew Kelleher

Published 19 November, 2010 by Matthew Kelleher

Matthew Kelleher is commercial director as RedEye and a contributor to Econsultancy.

27 more posts from this author

Comments (12)

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Niranjan Sridharan

Niranjan Sridharan, Digital Auditor at ABC

Nice Post!

I think just being transparent with data and tracking policies is hardly going to convince people that behavioral targeting is beneficial.

The reason people reject is due to the nature of web access. Since they see it as personal and at times even intimate (even more so with the social networking explosion), they would any day prefer anonymity over being served a relevant ad.

And I see only innovative strategies enticing people to be targeted - if the opt in law is brought in. It needs to be incentivised!!

For ex: offering discounts with ads served only by people being targeted? (the idea may be a little off the mark) but I am trying to stress that thinking out of the box as an industry can help us circumvent this problem.

about 6 years ago

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Kamal Tahir

Interesting article which is prompting me to think about shapes if things to come. On one hand, it may create some headaches for marketers, on the other hand, if web users opt in at their sites of choice it gives a better targeting capability. Motivated and engaged audience are more important than others. Tie special offer codes to opt in, and see how quickly that may change the mind of someone. Keenly looking at how things evolve. Cheers Kamal

about 6 years ago

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Tim Shapcott

This sounds like typical knee jerk reactions from politicians who are too removed from a situation to understand it, motivated by people with ulterior or misguided motives.

It may be beneficial if we call it a "Personal Shopping Recommendation" instead of Behavioral Marketing?

about 6 years ago

Ed Longley

Ed Longley, Head of Direct Online at Hiscox

An interesting article.

I've always wondered why there is so much focus on cookies and so much less on the terms of service that subscribers/ users of "free" services happily sign up to, not necessarily understanding the implications on their privacy.

Still, it does look like prudent site design should take into account options for providing core functionality that don't depend on cookies.

about 6 years ago

Chris Matenaers

Chris Matenaers, Head of Digital Marketing & BI Systems at brightsolid Online Publishing

A much debated topic recently.

Let's hope that the EU will come to their senses and put a forward thinking cookie policy in place.

None of us want to agree to every necessary cookie that is dropped on us, but likewise we don't want third party cookies on a site spying on us, ready to pounce when we browse other pages...

Cookies yes >> re-targeting no!

about 6 years ago

Chris Matenaers

Chris Matenaers, Head of Digital Marketing & BI Systems at brightsolid Online Publishing

I should add: better leave it unregulated than destroy something working. And yes, lots of companies will go out of business when third party cookies will be banned.

Also, it will only ever be effective when there is a world wide change, because many companies will move their online entities to other counties.

about 6 years ago

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Adam

Does anyone have a link to the University of California study Matthew references on this article?

about 6 years ago

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Adam

Thanks Matthew. This link is not working for me. Can you check it and maybe re-post?

about 6 years ago

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simon newsam

As Matthew wrote, legislation is supposed to be based on public opinion, so perhaps it's time to start educating the public.

Tim Shapcott is absolutely right with his comment  "...It may be beneficial if we call it a "Personal Shopping Recommendation" instead of Behavioral Marketing?"

It is quite complicated for ordinary people to understand and it's easy to scare them with tales of personal intrusion and Big Brother. But if the benefits were explained properly and the whole thing was put into a context ordinary people could understand, I think they'd be far more relaxed about it. 

Sounds like an industry-led PR campaign is needed here.

about 6 years ago

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Adam Hodge

Thanks again Matthew.  You and several readers who have commented above (thanks Simon and Tim) have hit on a topic that I feel very passionate about. I have gone and added my own 2 pence to the debate and call on the IAB to get involved ASAP. http://www.stream20.com/blog/the-cookie-monster-raises-its-head-once-again/

about 6 years ago

Neil Warren

Neil Warren, Publisher at 2N Media Ltd - ModernSelling.com

(This did appear, then disappeared, so I hope it doesn't end up duplicated - but the Tweet doesn't make much sense without it!)

It might also become a little easier to understand and get agreement, or lobby, and implement any relevant changes as and when the B2B rather than B2C elements get factored in.

Correspondents and Tweeters on here are perfectly happy to be getting the personal shopping experience, as they seek out, find and engage with the “service” (in this instance some blog advice – maybe leading to buying something from you Matthew and/or colleagues at Red Eye).

So we all need and want to know who each other are, in order to accomplish this. It is more “selling” than “marketing”, to my mind, in that it needs people rather than marketing collateral – but don’t let the semantics distract you. The point is “trust” which comes from “relationships”, and if any of us, as buyers, want that, then we cannot stay anonymous, any more than “The (Marketing) Team” can. Then “the cookie” is no more or less than “would you like my business card?”

about 6 years ago

Matthew Kelleher

Matthew Kelleher, Commercial Director at RedEyeEnterprise

Hi Adam, just double checked it and I am clicking through. Not shure what else I can do?

Kind regards

Matthew

about 6 years ago

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