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Marketers Push the Boundaries on Data Collection

Marketers Push the Boundaries on Data Collection

Michael Learmonth / AdAge

Shifting Boundaries

At hearings last week, Federal Trade Commission staff and invited panelists discussed whether advances in targeting require that more types of personal information be held off-limits to marketers. In the past, marketers have drawn the line at data related to health status and sexual preference. But as targeting gets more precise, and consumers themselves volunteer more and more information online, the question is whether those categories should be expanded.

Then there’s the question of whether any of this should be happening at all. “Everybody is making money off consumer data but the consumer,” said Jeff Chester, executive director for the Center for Digital Democracy, who was working on a complaint last week against companies that participate in real-time bidding for consumers as they move around the web.

As an analytics firm, Aperture sees itself as competing more against Nielsen and ComScore rather than data exchanges like eXelate, which buys Aperture data, and Blue Kai, which is an exchange for e-commerce data. “It’s kind of a land-grab right now, but none of them have the information we have or the discovery tools we have,” said Aperture general manager Scott Knoll.

Mr. Knoll said Aperture has built a firewall that separates cookies from personally identifiable information. Moreover, you can’t quite directly connect an offline address with an IP address that identifies a computer because IP addresses are randomly assigned by broadband ISPs. Even if it was possible, he said, “as a marketer, it’s something I would never do.”

In the past, marketers could point to the few complaints registered with state attorneys general about direct marketing to show that the public doesn’t worry much about it. One exception would be telemarketing, which resulted in Do Not Call Lists. Will the public start to care when a person who is bald gets an ad for Rogaine or a person who is overweight gets one for Weight Watchers?

Today, most online targeting is based on data collected online, but that’s changing, and both agencies and marketers are more interested in bringing new data to assign value to remnant ad inventory that they can buy cheaply. A host of data purveyors such as Media6Degrees, which mines social profiles for targeting information, are overlaying data to that inventory to find audiences marketers find valuable.

“Tying online to offline, or connecting a cookie to offline purchase behavior; there’s usefulness in that, but it’s not a trivial exercise,” said CEO Andy Atherton. “Privacy concerns need to be at the top of the stack or the clouds on the horizon are going to get bigger.”

Join the discussion! Targeted online advertising… creepy or efficient?