The news that digital technology company Phorm is teaming up with BT to target customers with behavioural advertising may sound like evidence of the latter’s growth as an ISP, but for others it has raised the issue of online privacy.
Many sites use behavioural advertising and SEO to target a specific audience. And while it’s a useful tool for some, there are fears the targeted nature of behavioural advertising violates users’ rights in regard to sites taking their personal details without permission.
BT secretly conducted trials of Phorm in 2006. It intercepted and profiled the web browsing of 18,000 broadband customers, leading to the company being reported to City Of London Police by anti-Phorm protestors.
And while no action was taken by the police, Phorm, AOL, Google, Microsoft and Yahoo have agreed to commit to a code of practise drawn up by the Internet Advertising Bureau, looking specifically at behavioural advertising:
A company collecting and using online information for behavioural advertising must clearly inform a consumer that data is being collected for this purpose
A company collecting and using online data for behavioural advertising must provide a mechanism for users to decline behavioural advertising and where applicable seek a consumer’s consent
A company collecting and using data for behavioural advertising must provide consumers with clear and simple information about their use of data for this purpose and how users can decline
Whether you think that behavioural advertising invades user privacy or not, websites will now be operating through a regulated system that reduces any suspicion.
The implications of behavioural advertising for online marketing are such that it will now be possible to target consumers in a more specific way than ever before. However, in reducing something of the ‘hit and miss’ nature of advertising, ISPs, data sellers and marketers must maintain a respect for the privacy of internet users.