No customer confidence in behavioural targeting

The online advertising industry is failing to establish confidence in behavioural targeting, with almost three-quarters of people objecting to the principle behind the predicted multi-billion-pound market.


Research from new media age found the number of consumers interested in relevant advertising has increased to 69%, from 58% a year ago, but 66% of people still object to ad targeting on privacy grounds and a further 7% are opposed for other reasons.

The research deals a blow to the emerging format, which aims to offer greater relevance and targeting for advertisers. It comes a year after new media age ran its first study of behavioural targeting and finds continuing consumer concern about the practice.

The mistrust is despite ongoing measures from the sector to allay fears, such as AOL launching an online educational campaign on behavioural targeting ( 11 August 2008) and BBC Worldwide updating its privacy policy to explain the practice when it partnered with AudienceScience (nma 26 March 2009).

The Internet Advertising Bureau (IAB) Behavioural Targeting Council, along with industry players including Google, Microsoft and Yahoo, rolled out good-practice guidelines and consumer education in March to tackle concerns (nma 5 March 2009).

Nick Stringer, head of regulatory affairs at the IAB and chair of the Behavioural Targeting Council, said the research highlights the importance of widespread consumer education.

“We’ve set good-practice principles and they are evolving. There will be more done to continue to educate consumers and the industry. We’re working towards compliance and a central point for consumers to opt out of behavioural targeting,” he said.

The council will look to promote the consumer-facing site within publishers’ site terms and conditions.

Donald Hamilton, MD of behavioural targeting specialist Wunderloop, said it’s important to keep consumers educated about targeting, but added, “I don’t think the IAB has enough money to educate every consumer.”

Mark Rabe, MD and VP of sales at Yahoo UK & Ireland, said, “Building user trust has and will continue to help create the right environment for the expansion of online advertising.”

Consumers’ perception of targeting has remained negative, with more than half (52%) believing it’s irrelevant. The research showed 72% of people favoured opting out of receiving targeted online advertising.

Stuart Colman, MD of European operations at AudienceScience, said the statistics highlighted an opportunity for behavioural targeting to be embraced more.

“It’s important to promote the principles and the IAB website. It has to be accessible to as many people as possible,” he said.
The statistics follow news earlier this week that BT is to delay working with Phorm, the controversial ISP-based behavioural targeting company ( 6 July 2009).

Phorm’s other ISP partner, Virgin Media, also stated it will extend its review of Phorm’s technology, which serves relevant advertising based on users’ internet activity. Virgin Media’s statement read: “Given the fast-moving nature of the sector, we intend to extend our review of potential opportunities with suppliers including Phorm prior to making any commitment.”

Stringer said IAB Europe, together with companies such as Google, AudienceScience and Wunderloop, plans to mirror the IAB UK’s initiative. “We’re looking to develop greater education of policymakers and users and to explore establishing a set of good-practice principles,” he said.

The new media age research, published in full next issue, was conducted by market research consultancy iCD Research, which surveyed 1,000 adults during June.

This story first appeared on

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