Internet Privacy: a hurdle for online marketers

Have you ever noticed how all the advertisements that appear on your Facebook page are eerily similar to your actual interests?

Every time you shop online, sign up for a newsletter, use a search engine, or even just browse the Internet you are revealing valuable information about who you are, what you like, and more. Online marketers then use this information to uniquely target advertisements to each individual.

In 2003, the FTC created a “do not call” option for consumers to opt out of unsolicited telemarketing calls. Now, many are calling for a “do not track” button embedded in web browsers.

Online advertising is a $31 billion industry. It relies on consumer data and information via “tracking” to create targeted advertisements based on unique consumer demographics and preferences.

According to Mike Zaneis, senior vice president and general counsel for the Interactive Advertising Bureau, “Targeted advertising sells for 2 1/2 times as much as non-targeted advertising. It’s very effective.”

Regardless, Microsoft has joined Mozilla FireFox and Apple’s Safari by announcing that Internet Explorer 10 would have a “do not track” feature built-in to the browser. Whether or not this would be the default setting of IE remains a heated topic of discussion.

Mr. Zaneis continues, “When a browser like Microsoft comes in and sets (do not track) by default, they just gave everybody a 60 percent off coupon for our product. We can’t survive in that world.”

As an organization, it is important to understand how this “do not track” option affects marketing strategies. For small-businesses, consultant Ben Piper says, “although start-ups don’t need to worry about ‘do not track’ at this point, they need to be aware of how future legislation of DNT could impact their marketing efforts.”

As it stands, the overall lack of awareness and understanding of Internet Privacy has led to a negligible amount of individuals disabling this “tracking” option. A public legislation change that would make the “do not track” option a legal requirement for web browsers could bring more attention to the subject and make this number significant.

As marketers, we will have to adapt to the new legislation and develop other tools to effectively target consumers online. Moreover, perhaps people may actually want advertisements tailored to their interests. Only time will tell.

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