Tag Archives: Behavioral targeting

Tracking Do Not Track

Yahoo! has taken a number of steps forward over the last couple of years as it tries to grow its business.

Deutsch: Logo von Yahoo

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I think they took a large one backward last week as they made an announcement that they had reversed course on the issue of “do not track” settings.  Let’s see what you think.

If you’ve ever gone to get some information on a product and then seen ads for that or similar products for the next month, welcome to the world of “ad personalization.”  It can also be called behavioral targeting although I tend to classify that more for the content presented to a visitor on a web site than to ads that are served up across the web.  Regardless, it can be great if it reminds you of a sale on an item you really want or massively painful if you were checking something out for a spouse or friend that is of no interest to you and the ads just won’t go away.  We will often buy children’s books for friends’ new arrivals and my inbox is littered with emails of new kiddie books.

Two years ago, Yahoo! said it would honor something that’s built into every browser:  do not track settings.  These request that the site you’re visiting not collect data about your visit for the purposes of ad targeting and remarketing.  Key word:  request. Yahoo! said it would honor those requests until it reversed itself last week.  As Media Post reported:

Yahoo still allows users to opt out of receiving behaviorally targeted ads by clicking on a link — either on its own site, or an umbrella site, like the one operated by the Networking Advertising Initiative. But privacy advocates say that opt-out links are problematic because they’re tied to cookies — and consumers who are especially privacy conscious often delete their cookies.

Then there was this report at about the same time:

The digital rights group Electronic Frontier Foundation this week released a new tool aimed at helping consumers avoid online data collection and behaviorally targeted ads. Privacy Badger — an add-on for Chrome and Firefox — says it “blocks spying ads and invisible trackers.” The EFF says that the tool, still in alpha testing, is its “answer to intrusive and objectionable practices in the online advertising industry, and many advertisers’ outright refusal to meaningfully honor Do Not Track requests.”

So because most major sites’ attitude on do not track requests is “nah,” they’re setting themselves up for users to take matters into their own hands and prevent the gathering of data beyond what is needed for the ad tracking.  As someone who uses visit data to improve the user experience as well as the consumption of my clients’ content I can tell you that if the quantity and quality of all the data declines, so will the overall usefulness and quality of the web. We talk in digital marketing about user signals – someone entering a sales funnel, someone requesting information.  If the other, less obvious, signals are made even harder to ascertain, the web economy is heading for a bumpy ride.


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Too Many Cookies Make You Fat And Slow

“What the heck is he doing writing about food on a Monday?”

English: Plateful of Christmas Cookies

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Given that it’s Thanksgiving week here in the US I’ve got food on my mind more than I usually do.  However, while cookies is the theme, it’s not about the sugary kind.

I was reading a bunch of sports sites as part of a research project when I came to one that seemed to lock up my browser   As it turned out, this site (which shall remain nameless since singling them out doesn’t serve any purpose) hadn’t locked me up but it was taking forever to load.  I opened a new tab and hit another site which popped right open.  Returning to the slow-poke, I took a look at what the page was doing as it loaded.  Imagine my surprise when I had a look at all the external (meaning off the site’s own servers) scripts and cookies that were running.

While my browser had taken the site’s primary analytics cookie (hey, I’m in the business so I like to help others learn) as well as their main ad serving cookie and even their Twitter tracker, my browser had  blocked 66 third-party cookies.  Each of those took a call to a third-party server.  These were ad networks, retargeting firms, on site ads from third parties, behavioral targeting firms,  etc.  The page (and each subsequent page, as it turned out) took  a long time to load .  While it came right up the  browser won’t respond since dozens of scripts are running.  Maybe a great revenue experience for the site owner but for we lowly users, it sucked.

One solution to this issue might be Google Tag Manager or deferring the parsing of JavaScript but it really goes beyond that.  Years ago there was a real emphasis on light page weights (the amount of code on the page as well as all the images, etc) and fast load times.  With the advent of broadband, I can’t recall having that conversation with anyone lately and maybe that’s a bit of negligence.   In addition to the SEO benefit fast pages get, they’re better user experiences.  That’s a broader point no matter what business you’re in.  If the focus isn’t on making your product the best it can be for your consumers, you need to refocus.  While I get that for media the “consumer” is the person buying the eyeballs you’re aggregating, without a good experience to bring those eyeballs back again and again, you won’t be in business for very long.

In other words, lay off the cookies!  Thoughts?

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What IE10 Means To You

Microsoft did something that’s causing a ruckus in the digital ad industry.  To me, it’s a logical, consumer-friendly move that is in line with best-practices.  To others, it’s…

English: Microsoft Windows Internet Explorer w...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

a step backwards in consumer choice, and we fear it will harm many of the businesses, particularly publishers, that fuel so much of the rich content on the internet.

That quote is from the head of the Interactive Advertising Bureau, and the move in question is to turn on “Do Not Track” in the new version of Internet Explorer.  Another group – the Digital Advertising alliance (the IAB is a founding member) began a campaign earlier this year to inform consumers about interest-based advertising and how to take greater control of their online privacy.  According to the boilerplate in their press releases

These associations and their thousands of members are committed to developing effective self-regulatory solutions to consumer choice in online behavioral advertising.

One last quote:

A default setting that automatically blocks content violates a consumer’s right to choose, and doesn’t factor in the need for digital businesses to innovate and thrive economically.

That’s from the IAB’s official response just in case you think I’m making this up.  However, we’ve finally got to the truth:  this is about commerce and not about consumer choice.

As a digital marketing person I’m certainly aware of the benefits some tracking technologies bring to consumers, who might not even understand that they’re seeing more interesting ads and offers because of it.  However, I also know that most users do not change the default settings on their browsers (ever wonder why those deals to make certain pages the default home or search page are worth so much?).  Apparently, the DAA only supports consumer choice when the default is set to “on”.

This isn’t about blocking ads or blocking content.  It doesn’t block cookies.  It’s a browser setting that sends a message to every website you visit saying you prefer not to be tracked. While that flag is optional for sites and ad nets to obey, it’s gaining momentum with Twitter embracing it.  To me it’s about protecting consumers, even those who don’t know they need it and I don’t buy that defaulting the consumer’s choice to be the way you want it as a business is necessarily the best, or even the right, way.

Unfortunately, the new version of the the latest proposed draft of the Do Not Track specification published Wednesday requires that users must choose to turn on the anti-behavioral tracking feature in their browsers and software.  That means that IE10 will be out of compliance with the standard and, therefore, ad nets and others are free to ignore the browser setting.

I’m always sad when smart people do dumb things such as choosing their businesses over their users.  Let’s see where this leads but I don’t think the conversation is over.  Do you?  Where do you come out on this?

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