Data capture is pretty central to the one-to-one, micro marketing
world promised by digital media. Unfortunately for the marketing
community, the issue of data capture runs up slap bang against the issue
When does storing and using data on the patterns of consumer online
activity become an infringement of liberties?
In Brussels it’s the staple fodder of legislative debate and on both
sides of the Atlantic privacy, like freedom of information, is one of
those issues that politicians think they can hijack to score points.
But marketers insist that they should be allowed to use customer data
responsibly. Last week, the Network Advertising Initiative, an industry
body representing major third-party ad servers in the US, appeared to
retreat from that position. The NAI told advertisers and agencies that
they will let consumers ’opt out’ - users will be able to ask
third-party servers to stop using information about them to compile
individualised profiles, even when the data isn’t personally
The NAI’s reasoning is that there are substantial consumer fears about
the way data is collected and used. Those concerns could restrict the
growth of web activity - and, in particular, continue to dampen
enthusiasm for web ads.
DoubleClick, a prominent NAI member, is thought to be keen on this
opt-out initiative. Last year it was mired in controversy after its
takeover of the direct marketing agency Abacus Direct - it faced
investigation after complaints (from, among others, the Electronic
Privacy Information Center) that it was merging data about online habits
with offline data that stretched to names and addresses.
DoubleClick was so stung by the criticism that it began an internet
Privacy Education Campaign, explaining how users could click out of the
’cookies’ software that collects data on their web usage.
The issue has been the subject of a political row in the US Congress and
there are fears that if the NAI doesn’t produce workable guidelines,
then the Federal Trade Commission may step in. If that happens, it may
start demanding even more stringent rules.
Does all of this have any implications on this side of the Atlantic?
Perhaps, Danny Meadows-Klue, the chairman of the Internet Advertising
Bureau, says. ’Data protection is a critical issue that we need to be
able to focus on and the new IAB taskforce will accelerate that. We are
working on a white paper that will explain what we mean by third-party
serving, looking at what are complex technologies and explaining where
the data resides. It will explain how all this works and how it can
translate into workable rules. Some of the press coverage of this issue
has been pretty knee-jerk. But we recognise that is a hot topic and that
we need to respond,’ he explains.
The issue was raised at an IAB executive meeting last week and there is
a working group looking at the responsibilities of third-party
Tim Brown, the managing director of Real Media and the IAB’s
international liaison officer, states: ’There are lots of bureaucrats in
Brussels keen to make a name for themselves as so-called champions of
They are keen to cut this off at the shoulder without appreciating the
benefits there can be to consumers. We need self-regulation. That is
what the working party is co-ordinating with different (advertising and
marketing) associations and it is working towards a statement, a kite
mark if you like. My role is to ensure that it conforms with IAB
Other sources think the biggest problem will be if the IAB
Charlie Dobres, the chief executive of i-level, says: ’It’s easy to say
that the whole DoubleClick thing with Abacus wasn’t very smart. But my
advice to the IAB here would be to react in a measured way.’
Will DoubleClick try to drive the issue forward in the UK? Eric Stein,
DoubleClick’s UK managing director, declines to comment. But there’s
widespread scepticism about whether this is a genuine consumer issue. As
Dobres puts it: ’There’s probably a vociferous minority. The silent
majority are happy with what they have and know that it works jolly
well. Increasingly, audiences are media literate and they understand the
benefits of targeting. We have different sensibilities in the UK and we
already have a data protection act. We don’t need another one.’