"The Debate" is a column focused on the current debate around ad targeting and consumer privacy. Last week, executives in the digital ad ecosystem provided their thoughts about online behavioral advertising and, specifically, "If a consumer asked you 'Why is tracking good?', what would you say?" Read it.
Today, TRAFFIQ Chief Product Officer Eric Picard continues the theme with his own thoughts on behavioral tracking.
Companies that track consumers' behavior across the web without their consent, and without providing them any recognizable value, should stop. I'll argue that virtually no company that tracks consumer behavior across multiple sites actually provides consumers with recognizable value.
And the real issue here is that consumers never opt-into being tracked this way – if we required this, then the ethical issues would go away. But we don't require an opt-in because in reality, consumers don't want this, don't benefit from it, and as an industry we're acting in unethical ways. I realize that for this audience, my position makes me as unpopular as a New York City steam bath in August, but I challenge the industry to really stand up and do the right thing here.
For clarity - Publishers that track what their visitors do on that one publisher's site face completely different issues. Consumers who visit a publisher's site are engaging in a direct relationship with that publisher. As long as the publisher is collecting data to be used only on its own website, this is defensible – the consumer has elected to visit their site, and gets the value of content that the publisher provides. And if the publisher asks the consumer to opt-into being tracked across multiple websites, then there is no ethical issue at stake. But cross-publisher behavioral tracking should definitely require an opt-in.
While a consumer is visiting a publisher's site, the publisher certainly has the right to track his or her behavior. And having a user specifically 'opt-out' of being tracked on that publisher is the 'right' option to provide in terms of creating consumer good will.