Sunday, April 22, 2007

Google Doubleclick deal concerns Privacy Advocates

The Electronics Privacy Information Center (EPIC), The Center for Digital Dempcarcy (CDD), The U.S. Public Interest Research Group (U.S. PIRG) has filed a complaint with Federal Trade Commission (FTC) that Google’s acquisition of Double will compromise privacy of internet users. Read the complete detail of this complaint at http://www.democraticmedia.org/PDFs/google_complaint.pdf

I have been talking about Google and Behavioral Targeting even before the acquisition of Double click was announced. As I wrote in my first post on Google and Behavioral Targeting Google has been putting it’s footprint all of the internet even before Doubleclick acquisition. Acquisition of Doubleclick bought them way closer to building the biggest behavioral targeting network.

This is what these Privacy advocates are worried about.


According to CNET:

Privacy advocates are particularly worried that Google will merge the data from users' search queries with DoubleClick's records of people's general Web-surfing habits in order to build a centralized database of consumer profiles.

Google executives have said that for now, the company does not plan to merge personally identifiable information such as names and e-mail addresses, with search histories and Web-surfing habits. Rather, it hopes to combine both companies' (Google and Doublelclick) non-personally identifiable data, such as search histories and Web-surfing habits linked to a computer's IP address, so that it could better target advertisements.
But EPIC's argument is that an IP address can, with a little work, be linked to an individual, even if a name or address isn't associated with the IP number.
"Identity can be inferred," Marc Rotenberg, executive director for EPIC and author of the complaint, said in an interview with CNET News.com. "We believe that this complaint provides an opportunity for (the) FTC to look closely at whether the online-advertising industry provides adequate privacy protection for Internet users and (to) consider the privacy impact of non-personally identifiable information collected through search histories."
Source: CNET

We will have to wait and see how Google responds to this complain and the next steps by FTC. I will keep you posted as I get more information.

So what is the solution to all these privacy concerns?

I believe that if consumers are provided proper education (I will write about consumer benefits in one of my future posts) than they can infect benefit from Behavioral Targeting. It will be a win-win situation for all the parties involved. Proper education and disclosures by advertisers, publishers and networks will ease the concerns regarding Behavioral Targeting. Consumers have the right to opt out of Behavioral Targeting but what is lacking is proper education on how to do so. The networks currently opt-in users by default; however, in my opinion the proper process should be opt-out by default and opt-in if user chooses to opt-in, just like we do for emails and newsletters. This process will move the burden from users to the advertisers, publishers and networks.

In short run this could result in a lower reach for BT providers. But if the benefits to consumers are properly stated then most of the consumers will be willing to participate. If you (network or advertiser) tell a consumer that he/she does not need to go looking for deals or offers of products/services that he/she is in the market for, these deals/offers will be provided to him/her based on her online behavior no matter where in the network she is in, I think consumer will love it. If a consumer knows the process and she knows that she is willingly participating in the BT, the click-through rate on the ads will be higher too. Why force users into Behavioral Targeting and raise privacy concerns when you can offer them what they want (when they want) and make them your raving fans.

2 comments:

  1. Claudiu Floroaie2:07 AM

    Hi Anil,

    First of all great post. As you say this combination of capabilities from Google and Double Click has the potential to trigger a variety of benefits for the end-user. And the latter would have improved access to information and deals where ever he may be. The problem with all the great things in this world is that they can be used in multiple ways. We have too many examples of great innovations being used to harm. So how would this be any different in the long run?
    I'm not exactly sure that Google is the one to be afraid of? Is just the duplicitous potential of such a technology. I for one would like to benefit from such an innovation but would not like to be on receiving end in a country with a dictatorship and an high interest in technology, if you see what I mean.

    All the best,

    Claudiu

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  2. Anonymous5:48 AM

    Yes, the advertisers are just a bother. It's the government tracking me that I don't like. And of Google is storing all this information, all the govt. has to do is subpoena it. I like the way activist librarians regularly destroy their records of what library patrons are reading. We need more librarians/citizens like that!

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