I think the area of data collection around Internet users browsing habits is an interesting one.
The EU have been investigating it for some time – in regards to Behavioural Targeting and user profiling and possible uses of this – and the US IAB are also actively lobbying the US government around the issue.
Paid Content article on the US situation presently – http://www.paidcontent.org/entry/419-online-ad-business-adds-300-billion-to-u.s.-economy-so-dont-mess-with-i/
EU paper here – http://info.wfa.be/OnlineDataCollection_Backgroundpaper.doc
The EU paper is an interesting read as it outlines some uses of targeting many of us probably haven’t immediately thought of.
My feeling is if data collation is anonymous (and more about the ‘what’ then the ‘who’) and used to create more relevant advertising messages or present users with more relevant content then it is a positive thing.
It’s when it’s misused, like anything, that it becomes a problem.
One area of discussion is what % of users are aware about the data that is potentially being collected around their habits online. Most data collection has an opt-out policy … ie, they will collect info unless you explicitily disagree. Sure, you can delete cookies etc but how many people do this and do it due to privacy concerns and not just habit or becasue someone has said it’ll quicken their online experience?
Would it be feasible to move to an opt-in approach? That the adservers/publishers etc could only profile you and acquire information of you allowed them to and switched it on? On top of this, privacy policies were clearer, more prominent and not written in legal blah that most humans don’t like reading?
I’m not sure. Personally as a user it doesn’t bother me right now, and as an advertising industry type guy I think targeting offers benefits to both consumer and advertiser as it can increase relevance and remove waste.
But surely the debate will become more topical over time as curiosity builds and more people join the chatter.
If anyone knows what is being done locally by the IAB or AIMIA it’d be great to find out. For the ad industry surely self regulation would be a better outcome than it becoming the realm of govt. bureaucrats?