Privacy and Internet Behavior Info Debate ContinuesWe\’re no closer to reconciling concerns about the use of online behavior data. Indeed, several things happened over the past week proving that marketers, controllers of Internet information, and consumers aren\’t likely to agree any time soon on the use of online-behavior information.

Because of concerns by both consumers and the government, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) late last year created guidelines to help the marketing industry self-regulate itself in the behavioral ad targeting space (see the proposed principals). Last week, in response to the FTC\’s proposed rules, various industry groups and individual businesses said the FTC was too broadly defining \”behavioral information.\”

Marketers don\’t have a problem with protecting personally-identifying details like names, physical and email addresses, and phone numbers. But the FTC, they said, does not do enough in its proposed guidelines to distinguish between this type of information and so-called \”non-personally-identifiable information,\” or N-PII, which is anonymous user data. N-PII is the information used by behavior-based technology to decide what kind of ad to display onscreen.

What\’s interesting, though, is that the agreement among marketers regarding the FTC\’s too-broad definitions seems to end there.

The Network Advertising Initiative (NAI) at the end of the week released a draft of a proposed revision to its best practices code, as part of its response to the FTC\’s suggestions. Included in the changes is a demand that \”centralized access to consumer choice mechanisms\” – that is, an opt-out mechanism for non-identifying behavior tracking – be available both on the NAI’s consumer Web site and as well as on NAI members\’ own sites.

However, the Association of National Advertisers (ANA) said in its blog that there should not be an opt-out mechanism for tracking of anonymous user data. \”What is the potential consumer harm if non-PII [non-personally identifiable information] is transferred to a third party?” ANA executive vice president Dan Jaffe wrote.

It\’s hard enough for marketers to find a consensus among themselves. Think how much harder it will be to reconcile their beliefs with online search providers like Google, consumer advocates, and U.S. government officials.

Then, add to the mix consumers and governments from the rest of the world. Privacy regulators in Europe last week called for search engines to erase IP addresses from their databases after six months. It\’s still debatable, on both sides of the pond, whether IP addresses are personally identifiable. On one hand, an individual can always log onto different computers and thus have different IP addresses, and many individuals can log onto the same computer and thus share a single IP address. On the other hand, it\’s possible to suss out people\’s identities based on clicks from an IP.

While all these debates rage on, the borderless nature of the Internet makes all of the concerns applicable to all marketers, all search engines, and all advocates. For now, marketers should remain in a holding pattern, watching everything play out, before wholeheartedly adding behavioral advertising to their multi-channel campaigns.

Eydie Cubarrubia
Marketing Communications Manager, mobileStorm
\”I\’d rather you text me\”