The promise of behavioural marketing is a wonderful thing. After hundreds of years of mass media advertising that targets broad audiences with the same advertising message (whether they like it or not), the technology is now becoming available to advertise very specific advertising offerings targeted to reach only those that are likely to be interested in them. It’s a concept that excites both advertisers and consumers, since advertisers get to market to specific consumer audiences in the most profitable way and consumers only see the ads (and other types of content) that are directly relevant to them. However, as with many good things in life, there is a price to be paid by consumers and the currency is information. As the old English proverb goes, one can’t have one’s cake and eat it.
The cake is particularly delicious one. The Internet promises to tailor its audio, video, text, links and other content specifically to suit your individual preferences. Advertising is obviously leading the charge here, by investing in campaigns that are more closely targeted to consumer needs. However, the technologies can be just as useful to provision any kind of content over the Internet. Just imagine a web site, where every story, video clip, link, recommendation or advert was exactly according to your preference, not only in terms of content, but delivery, frequency and style too. Ultimately, it has the potential to become your own personal Internet, just the way you like it and as you discover new websites and services they automatically change to suit you.
Now here’s the catch. In order for behavioural targeting to be effective, it needs to know your preferences and behaviours, and update them in real-time. This includes data on the websites you visit, what you search for and where you spend your time whilst online, plus information like what devices you use to access Internet content, via what browsers, from what locations etc. It raises a plethora of privacy issues, and does so at a time where consumer attitudes towards privacy and knowledge of privacy issues are changing rapidly. Many thought little of putting all their personal details on Facebook a year or two ago, but recent media coverage of user reactions to changes in Facebook’s privacy settings has given many Facebook users pause for thought. A year or two ago it became quite common to find out that ‘all’ your friends were suddenly on Facebook. These days it’s quite common to know someone who’s quit Facebook entirely.
A new survey undertaken by Real Opinions highlights that there is enthusiasm for behavioural targeting and concern over privacy issues in almost equal measure. Consumers appear to appreciate efforts to provide them with more relevant content, but don’t want to control access to their personal information and behaviours online. The survey found that 60% of Internet users in the UAE favoured behavioural targeting for customised advertising and Internet content over less targeted means. However, 76% of UAE Internet users would prefer that behavioural data was only collected with their express permission, given in advance. In the fullness of time, it’s likely that users will have access to more and more tools to control their level of privacy online. In the short term, the likelihood is that new technologies are going to offer opt-in/opt-out options for Internet users. In other words, you’ll need to choose whether to enjoy your cake today or save it for later.