Self Regulation the Key to Privacy and Marketing

In the never-ending battle between Web-based advertising and privacy, it seems the consumer is slowly taking back control. The technology has become so mature, the processes primed, that you’re seeing government agencies and trade groups step in to try to give consumers more control over how their private information is used online.

Sears was recently nailed by the FTC for not adequately informing visitors about its monitoring and in the coming weeks a number of advertising and Internet trade groups plane to announce new guidelines as well.

The online marketplace has become so dynamic that protecting consumer’s rights have become difficult. Laws enacted a few years ago are already obsolete, and the pace at which technology advances means that online marketing continues to become more pervasive. I suspect the problem is only going to get more complicated, as Obama has pledged action on several issues affecting e-commerce, including online privacy and extending broadband Internet access throughout the country.

At the core of the problem is behavioral targeting, and marketers efforts to walk the fine line between achieving online results and abiding to some sense of permission-based initiatives. Some are talking about forcing Websites to add a small icon that allows consumers to see what information that site is tracking upon clicking on it. If measures like that or similiar regulations go through, I could imagine it would lead to a host of Website redesigns.

The scary part is that for as good as marketers have become at leveraging beharioral targeting, they can still get a lot better. Many companies still don’t measure or have the data sets required to take full advantage of the technology.

That said, while technology will continue to present its problems and answers, it’s an issue that I think needs to be ultimately contained through education, advocacy, and certain product constraints, as it’s in marketers’ best interest to use self-regulation as a means to keep consumers satisfied.