Earlier last week, Canada’s Privacy Commissioner Jennifer Stoddart released new guidelines for advertisers who track consumers’ Internet use.
For many years now online advertisers have been using data from tracking tools to present individual users with ads that are related to their lifestyle and interests. You may have been checking your emails or reading an article on your laptop and wondered why it seems like most of the advertising is targeted towards you. Well, because it is, through behavioural advertising. Using information from approximately the last month, advertisers map a user’s journey including their geographical location, the websites visited, and the type of items purchased. Therefore, ads can be targeted towards an individual, and be completely relevant.
Gathering this data can bring up many questions and make some Canadians feel uncomfortable. How are they getting my information? What else are they doing with this data? How do I stop this?
When a user browses the Internet, a Cookie is dropped onto their computer on each webpage visited. Imagine a Cookie is just a yellow sticky note marking a place in a book; when your friend opens the book they can see the page you marked. An advertiser is essentially the friend who opens the book. They can piece together all the pages you visited, and then the next time you see them they may say, “Hey, I saw you read pages about travelling in Europe, and you booked a hotel in France? Have you thought of flying with airline X?”
It is possible, and very easy, to delete the Cookies on your computer, preventing advertisers from targeting ads in such a way. However, not everyone knows what Cookies are and how they are used, so we should not assume that users are already opting out if they want to.
As a PR and Marketing agency with a focus on online advertising, we at Curve see this as a real catch 22 situation. Stoddart has a valid point that users should be able to opt out of behavioural advertising on each website they visit. We want Internet users to be comfortable with the advertising they are exposed to, because then we would receive higher response rates.
On the flip side, creating opt-out functions on websites could become irritating to a user because of the amount of extra clicks that would be required while browsing. Plus, the data gathered from online tracking is not as personal as you may think. To an advertiser, a user is essentially a number, not a name. They don’t want, nor do they collect, a user’s name, address or any form of bank details. They look at your interests based on Internet browsing, any purchases made in recent weeks, your area code (not your whole number), and possibly your age.
Maybe, before strict guidelines are implemented, the first step should be a better education on what online tracking actually is. One of the reasons it was put into place (which people tend not to speak of, for some reason) is to provide the user with a better online experience more relevant to their interests and needs. From our experience, those who understand the concept and what it involves, actually welcome the relevancy in online content. I guess we’ll all have to watch Stoddart’s space to see what the next steps will be.
Among the new guidelines:
- Users must be able to give meaningful consent to being tracked before or at the time their data is collected.
- Users must know why and for what purpose their personal information is being collected.
- Trackers must limit retention of data.
- Collection of sensitive information such as medical or health data should be avoided.
- Knowingly tracking children or using tracking technologies that people can’t turn off are off-limits.
Source: Globe and Mail