The dichotomy of service providers (SPs) and advertisers trying their level best and within reason to track and act upon consumers’ daily online and offline activities whether at work or at play, and consumers’ interest and even efforts to refrain from or hide all that they do online and offline at work or at play to keep their lives as private as possible seems to be a never-ending dance between all the interested parties. At issue is the extent that SPs and advertisers utilize technologies, some longstanding and others emerging, to peer into and extract consumer activities data that when compiled and analyzed can lead to profiling (not to suggest only in a negative way) and segmenting consumers that can ultimately lead to one-to-one (personalized) marketing of products and services. The end result is intended to be a win-win for both the seller and the buyer.
It is the Internet and online world that can be credited for taking the science and art of usage and behavioral targeting to where it currently exists. There now are multiple technologies and fronts enabling this capability, and unfortunately for one in particular - Deep Packet Inspection or DPI, can become held up as the poster child of unfair, unethical and even unreliable practices and application. This brings me to a more recent research finding and debate where online usage tracking and measurement has had to re-think one of its core propositions: “Cookies” as the primary means of tracking measurement. Some of us know, and others of us may not that cookies are small pieces of text stored on a user's computer by a web browser; and they contain the user's settings, shopping cart contents, or other data used by websites. Most importantly to all the interested parties is what happens to tracking measurement estimates when the minority of users (on average 30+% of us) clear the cookies off of their computers on a routine basis. It skews the measurement estimates that sellers and advertisers bank on when targeting ads at buyers. You see, it turns out that when an original cookie is deleted on average within a month of its implant, the sites we visit re-issue follow-on cookies that can result in over-counting of site visits. The users that might care about this are those that appreciate behavioral targeting of advertisements at their usage profiles. How many of you are out there? Just know that the current-day Internet, and Web 2.0 value propositions are somewhat predicated on the ability to track and measure our online activity.
If this weren’t enough to think about or be concerned with as technology users, there now is the prospect that as multiple services users (Data-Internet, Voice-Fixed, Video-TV and Voice-Mobile), or to use industry parlance, as Triple- and Quad-Play services subscribers,we are in most cases provided the services by just one SP (telephone companies especially, some cable companies already or soon to be). Their unrivalled views in to our lives is expected to be a gold mine of tracking, measurement and behavioral-targeted advertising. The good news here is telecommunications companies are being advised to tread lightly where all their customer’s data is concerned, and that they make the data they use anonymous (no email or IP address tracking). Once service providers and consumer advocates come to agreement on the fine line of privacy and where it falls, most technologists know that a solution or solutions can be had – and most consumers may become more willing participants.