So this morning, I read Max Ross’ article on MinnPost. The article is a a nice, simple explanation of what’s happening today in online advertising — notable for its lack of both hype and fear mongering. It concludes:
“”f we want to use the Internet at all, we must reconcile the fact that someone or other is going to be tracking our activity, and using our apparent interests to fashion advertisements just for us.
“Maybe the biggest illusion of the Internet isn’t that advertisers work slyly behind the scenes, trying to hide the fact that they’re there. Rather it seems the biggest misconception of the online world is that there’s any privacy at all.”
He’s right. For the most part, online marketing is right out in the open. Cookies are a boon to most of us — they make it so we don’t have to log in every time they visit a site important to them. And Ross cites a 2006 study by the Ponemon Institute and Revenue Science that “found that 63 percent of consumers prefer advertising based on their interests; 55 percent of those surveyed said that relevant advertising “improves” or “greatly improves” their overall online experience.”
Some might look at this as the consumers being lazy — or just giving up in the face of speed and convenience. In my own work and home life, I’m OK with the ads that rest on the margins of the content I want, and I’ll accept it as the price I have to pay to get web services for free.
My take from years in corporate America has always been that online personalization is fine because it’s largely simulation of personal service run by software — the likelihood is low that anyone would be interested in me as an individual among untold millions is nearly nil.
But this morning, I also had the chance to skip a May 5 BusinessWeek piece on Tanya Anderson of Portland, Ore. who found herself at the end of the RIAA’s anti-file sharing barrel and has managed to turn the tables because, lo and behold, she didn’t do it. The RIAA’s people work with internet service providers to connect IP addresses with file sharers. But, the article notes,
“…One IP address may be assigned to a device such as a Wi-Fi router that can be used by several people at the same time to access the Net wirelessly. So if a visitor or a neighbor decides to steal music over the Wi-Fi network, the homeowner would still be fingered. In addition, some people have IP addresses that change every time they log onto the Net, so the IP address you use in the morning could be assigned to your neighbor that afternoon. Verizon and other Web service providers try to track who has which IP address at what time, but their records can be faulty.
“More troublesome, sophisticated computer users can “spoof” IP addresses, or use one assigned to somebody else. They use a simple piece of software to forge the IP address on packets of information sent from their computer, much like someone who puts an address on the back of an envelope that isn’t theirs. The people most likely to spoof are the very tech-savvy youngsters also mostly likely to be stealing music.”
Anderson’s lawyers found the likely culprit in this mistaken identity. But it isn’t so easy. And however unlikely the odds are that some lawyer or regulator turns their gaze on you personally, they’re 100% when it happens.
So what are we to do… as citizens and as marketers? For me, being online is part of my business and part of how I manage my life. I won’t retreat, from this, but you have to keep an eye out. From a marketing standpoint, I believe the answer is to give consumers as many choices as you can about how they allow you to interact with them — what you can know and not know — and abide by those terms. In the abscence of regulation, transparency is the only protection against the inevitable backlash … and it’s the right thing to do.