Advertisers on the web have been eager to track users browsing histories in order to more effectively market their products or services to a concentrated audience. Concerns over privacy, however, led Firefox to recently add a “do not track option” on their browser, and other Internet browsers such as Google Chrome and Explorer followed suit. Marlene Burkhardt, professor of economics & business administration, as well as the professor for the cyber marketing class, answers some questions regarding advertising and privacy on the internet.
Do you think the new “do not track” option in internet browsers is important for the average user’s privacy and protection?
A privacy option is certainly in the best interest of the user. Microsoft’s approach is to allow users to utilize a list of web addresses that track in order to prevent interaction with any domains on this list. Mozilla’s approach uses a “Do Not Track” header on every website a user visits which in essence asks every website not to track them. Chrome is simply giving users the option to “opt out” of behavioral tracking ads. However, some people actual appreciate the behavioral advertising that is generated by tracking data because it helps them attend to ads that they are more likely to want to see. Others consider it an invasion of privacy and downright spooky. If you are concerned about how your personal tracking data will be used, you can now stop the tracking.
Is protection of privacy on the web more difficult than other media sources and have policy and privacy options been able to keep up with the technology?
Privacy and policy options in general have a hard time keeping up with technology. Google got so caught up with “can do” technologically that it did not attend to what it “should not do” because of privacy and copyright issues. A good example of this lies in the number of mistakes Google has made since its inception. There was the blunder with matching ads based on email content, the “photograph the world” — down to neighborhood detail — project, and the copyright infringement decision to create on-line content for all of the world’s books. It has learned its lesson with Chrome.
Do you think tracking users’ browsing habits is an acceptable way for advertisers to market their products?
Target marketing has always been a key component of marketing campaigns. Advertisers waste a lot of time and money marketing to someone who is unlikely to be interested in their product or service. Technology and in particular tracking technology has helped decrease the cost of advertising. Target mailings use a similar approach but it is often less feared than internet technology because many consider it less invasive.
How do you think these new options will affect advertisers who depend on Internet browsing for their audience?
Advertisers who depend on Internet browsing and companies who help sift through this data will definitely be affected by the new privacy options. This may actually help a company like comScore who generates “permission” tracking data from over 2 million users. However, it is likely that other approaches analyzing aggregate data will continue to allow successful targeting without the browsing data. And, individual companies like Barnes and Nobel will continue to provide more specific targeting based on purchasing data. Who doesn’t enjoy the recommendation of a book based on the other books you’ve purchased?
Are advertisers more successful when they can target an audience based on their previous searches?
Definitely, it works!
-Joyce Eveleth, ’11, Juniata online Journalist