Don’t Be Creepy: Using Robust User Data for Ad Targeting While Respecting Privacy


Posted by Craig Greenfield, EVP, Global Managing Director

This blog was originally posted on eMarketing & Commerce

Google announced that on March 1 it will be updating its Privacy Policy to enable the integration of user data across Google properties. As it integrates more cross-property data, including information on user interests and demographics, Google can provide advertisers with more robust and precise targeting capabilities in search and display.

For instance, Google may uncover a certain person’s interests through their interactions on Gmail or Google+. This capability may someday enable an advertiser to direct search or display ads to a person based on those interests.

Although users can opt out of the experience and adjust and delete information that Google has collected, the Privacy Policy update has been met with some backlash.  Lawmakers in the U.S. and European Union have asked Google to explain why the changes are necessary and how privacy will be protected. A privacy advocacy group sought a court order directing the FTC to sue Google, and sites like Gizmodo have urged people to take control of their privacy by switching to various non-Google-owned properties for search, email, social, photos, docs and video.

Assuming Google goes forward with the update and activates the potential for more robust targeting options, advertisers should keep a few things in mind to increase performance while respecting privacy:
1. There’s a fine line between appropriate and creepy. Ads that are more tailored to a person’s interests are more likely to satisfy that person’s needs. However, many users would prefer that advertisers don’t know everything about them. If a user sees an ad that’s eerily related to a Google+ or Gmail conversation they’ve just had with a friend, a line may have been crossed.

2. Users will blame you. Creepy ads harm people by making them feel as if they’ve been unwillingly observed. But who’s responsible for this unwanted observation? Technically, Google observed the user, but the average web surfer doesn’t think about what’s happening behind the scenes. Users ask, “How did this brand know that about me? Have they been watching me?” Creepy isn’t always a label that users attach to Google (or Facebook or any other advertising platform). It’s a label attached to brands that push the platform’s capabilities too far.

3. Just because you can doesn’t mean you should. Users must agree to the new Privacy Policy in order to sign in to Google. Google provides an easy means within its Ads Preference Manager to opt out of customized or personalized search and display ads. Thus Google is informing its users, obtaining their consent and providing them with privacy controls. But just because a person consents or fails to adjust their ad preferences doesn’t mean that it’s open season for creepiness. People shouldn’t have to choose between using Google and avoiding the creep factor. As a marketer, don’t think that people agreed to diminish their right to privacy in order to use Google or another service. Respect privacy as a right that can’t be diminished, no matter whether a person opts in to a privacy policy.

When your brand possesses or has access to data that provides deep visibility into user interests, you should use that visibility to create more relevant ads, thus increasing performance while limiting costs. But with deep visibility comes deep responsibility to respect privacy. The fastest way to hurt performance is to cross into the creepy zone. Don’t be a creeper.

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