It’s been far too long since I’ve chatted with you guys. I’ve been studying A LOT.
If you didn’t already know, I’m a Marketing major. So many of the courses that I’m taking, outside of my general education credits, are directly in line with the things I write about on my blog.
If you’re a college student, you probably know how nauseatingly long it takes to complete a single assignment. Which is precisely why I’ve been struggling to find even an hour to spend on the blog. HOWEVER, I had a “mind-blown” moment one day as I was sulking around feeling bad for myself. If there is such a distinct connection between what I write about on my blog and what I write about in school, why not RE-USE that content?! 💥
So, I apologize in advance if this post isn’t as “accessible” as some of the others on my blog. Keep in mind that this was originally written as a college paper. I’ve made some edits to the copy, but it was difficult to retain the original information without re-writing the entire paper.
As always, I love to hear your feedback!
Internet tracking is real.
The evolution of computers allows us to accomplish our daily tasks faster and with more precision than ever before. We check our e-mail online. Talk face-to-face with people across the globe. Earn entire degrees online, and even make a living right from the comfort of our homes.
This sounds too good to be true, right? Like there should be some kind of catch…
Actually, this might not be far from the truth. It turns out there’s a heated debate in the digital world, and it has to do with the fact that every move we make online is tracked.Internet tracking is real. For better or for worse? #Digital #Marketing Click To Tweet
Behavioral Targeting Online and Your Digital Identity
Online behavioral targeting (OBT) is a practice that tracks our movements online in order to create a digital identity. As we click around the web, hidden files on our computers, called tracking cookies, store our search habits and preferences. This information forms a digital identity that advertising companies use to deliver advertisements based on our personal information.
Advocates of OBT argue that the practice benefits us consumers by providing more relevant advertising. They also point out that tools are available to self-regulate the practice. Critics argue that there’s a visible digital identity we create with our social media profiles. But there’s also an invisible digital identity that is created, and in many cases sold. They also argue that even though there are benefits, the practice violates our privacy rights to a shocking and disturbing degree.
In my opinion, the question no longer addresses whether or not advertisers should use behavioral tracking. Instead, we need to focus and address how we can educate and protect ourselves with the rise of the digital era.
The Good Side of Online Behavioral Targeting
Like I said, advocates of OBT argue that the major benefit of OBT delivers us more tailored and relevant ads. So, what exactly does that mean? Well, you may have noticed if you’ve ever searched or bought anything online that it magically shows up in advertisement on other websites you visit afterwards. This isn’t coincidence, it’s behavioral targeting at work.
Everyone loves free stuff, right?
That’s a pretty obvious answer, but people forget that advertising allows us to access free content on the Internet. Linda Woolley, executive vice president of government affairs for the Direct Marketing Association (DMA) warns that, “if regulators saddle marketers with too many restrictions [to protect us consumers], the free accessibility of most Internet content could be at stake” (Hatch, 2010).
They do it because it works.
A growing number of businesses rely on Internet advertising as a source of income. In fact, according to the Interactive Advertising Bureau, Internet advertising revenue has increased from $8 billion to almost $32 billion over the last decade. (IAB, 2012) Also, the Network Advertising Initiative observed in a 2009 study that behaviorally targeted advertising was twice as effective at converting users into buyers, as opposed to traditional advertising. (6.8% conversion rate versus 2.8% conversion rate, respectively.) (Aalberts, 2014)
Clearly, Internet advertising is a substantial part of the digital economy.Tracking your habits... they do it because it works. #Digital #Marketing Click To Tweet
The Bad Side of Online Behavioral Targeting
On the other hand, critics of OBT are quick to point out that the practice raises obvious legal and ethical concerns. In 2009, the FTC issued a report outlining four principles for the safe and secure use of our data. They include: 1) Transparency and consumer control, 2) Reasonable security and limited data retention for consumer data, 3) Affirmative express consent for material changes to existing privacy promises and 4) Affirmative express consent (or prohibition against) using sensitive data for behavioral advertising (Federal Trade Commission, 2009).
Basically, the FTC said advertisers need to notify us if they use behavioral targeting.
Hence, privacy policies and Other Incomprehensible Documents
The FTC acknowledged that even if advertisers followed these principles, it was still unrealistic to assume the material was presented in a way that we could actually comprehend. The case of Kirch v. Embarq Management addressed this assumption when Kathleen Kirch agreed to an Internet disclaimer that she didn’t actually read. Because she had agreed to the disclaimer her legal claims were compromised (Kirch. v. Embarq Management, 2010).
The Do Not Track System
Subsequently, the FTC issued a revised report in 2010 addressing these ongoing concerns. The revisions also proposed a “Do Not Track” system that would allow us to opt out of behavioral targeting. (Federal Trade Commission, 2010) The “Do Not Track” system would hold advertisers accountable to stop OBT activities once they’re notified of our tracking status. This relieves the burden placed on us when we haphazardly agree to incomprehensible consent forms. (We all do it.)
The unauthorized secondary use of our personal information is the most concerning aspect of OBT. In 2013 whistle-blower, Edward Snowden, confirmed that the National Security Agency contracted with telephone and social media companies for their data (Beck, 2015).
What all this means for us
However, one of the downfalls of disabling cookies is that some content may no longer be available. This is one of the reasons why it’s becoming increasingly difficult to self-regulate the practice.
Find tools to help you self-regulate
To investigate further, I downloaded the Ghostery browser extension. I discovered that not all cookies are bad. Session cookies store page information but don’t retain memory or code information about the user. Third-party cookies, known as tracking cookies, do store data about site preferences, browsing habits and movements online (Beck, 2015).
Ghostery notifies you of which trackers are on each web page with a purple bubble in the corner of your computer screen. Click on each to read their Knowledge Page, which summarizes the companies’ privacy policies and only the pertinent information about how they collect and use your data. This gives you information to make a more informed decision on which trackers to allow. From there, you can choose to block or whitelist the tracker.Do you know the difference between bad & good tracking cookies? #Digital #Marketing Click To Tweet
We need to educate ourselves and our children
As consumers we need to focus on how to educate ourselves. More importantly, we need to educate our children on how to protect themselves, especially with the rise in online education. We live in a digital world where interactive learning is commonplace. Educators ask students to navigate the web, but they neglect to inform them that as a result, their personal information may be compromised. As a mother this is deeply concerning. We can attempt to regulate our children’s internet usage, or we can give them the knowledge and access to resources that will help them make an informed decision.
Which option will you choose?We need to educate our children on how to protect themselves in the #Digital era. Click To Tweet
Until next time,
Let’s chat! How do you feel about online behavioral targeting? Yay? Nay? Scroll down and leave your thoughts in the comment section below.👇🏼
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For a full list of the references sited click here.