Big Data and Privacy


This weekend I had some down time and decided to read The Daily You by Josephy Turow, dean of Graduate Studies at the Annenberg Communications School at University of Pennsylyania.

And all I can say is that this book is a must read for anyone working in the digital space, especially advertisers. The book starts out with a nice history of web advertising and then goes on to discuss today’s customized advertising, discounts, news and entertainment , all of which are being tailored by newly powerful media agencies on the basis of data we don’t necessarily know they are collecting and individualized profiles we don’t know we have. Advertisers are placing individuals into what the author calls “reputation silos.” (These are really different psychographic type of segments)

For example, you might be categorized as a Caucasian living in New York City who only eats organic foods and watches Mad Men every week. Is that such a bad thing? It depends on what types of ads and offers are being served up to you based on this information.

The main message of the book is that although we love cool new web based technologies and platforms (Facebook, etc.), the consumer runs the risk of limiting our privacy and anonymity to advertisers.

Reading this book reminded me of my days at AOL, when I worked on their first commercial Internet properties, GNN and WebCrawler, creating advertising inventory. One day back in 1995 stands out for me. It was when Proctor and Gamble, the largest media buyer, wanted to advertise on several of our properties. My co-workers and I spent the rest of the month running around like chickens without our heads making sure everything went perfectly for P&G. It was a simple reminder that the advertiser rules when revenue is involved.

According to the author, we are just at the very beginning of an advertising or consumer behavior tracking revolution as advertisers aim to integrate consumer information across multiple platforms (the web, mobile, and TV). This is Holy Grail for marketers. Companies like Google will also use this information to serve up personalized search results, not just ads. Ironically, when people were asked how they’d feel if a search engine tracked what they searched for, 65% said it was a bad thing. 73% overall said they were “Not OK” with personalized search, since they felt it was an invasion of their privacy.

Although Turow doesn’t touch upon Facebook’s and Google’s recent and ever-changing advertising privacy policies in the book, he does provide some good commentary on this topic in a recent interview he did on NPR’s Fresh Air with Terry Gross.

So far, The Daily You has not gotten the press it deserves. So, take a chance, buy it and read about where media and advertising are going. And for those folks who are media buyers or work with major advertisers, it is important read because of it will provide some valuable insights into customers’ and viewers’ privacy concerns.

Companies can get more informed and responsible by becoming members of the Network Advertising Initiative (“NAI”) and adhering to the Digital Advertising Alliance’s Self-Regulatory Principles for Online Behavioral Advertising. If you’re an online user, you can find out more about online behavioral advertising and learn what choices you have and how to use browser controls and other measures to enhance your privacy.

Since online advertising is becoming more and more complex, what do you think both publishers and advertisers should do in the face of the increasing discussion about consumers’ privacy?