Google's Matt Cutts Calls for Disclosure in Tailored Advertising Report

By Clint Boulton  |  Posted 2009-09-30 Print this article Print

From the "This Just In" Department:

Contrary to what many marketers claim, most adult Americans (66%) do not want marketers to tailor advertisements to their interests. Moreover, when Americans are informed of three common ways that marketers gather data about people in order to tailor ads, even higher percentages--between 73% and 86%--say they would not want such advertising.

That point is the opening of this study (PDF) from several university professors who hired a survey company to conduct phone interviews with 1,000 adult Internet users, according to the New York Times.

So Americans don't want to be tracked online for targeted advertising. Seems obvious, right? What isn't so obvious is that one of the authors, Chris Hoofnagle, worked for privacy watchdog EPIC (Electronic Privacy Information Center).

This has Google search engine guru Matt Cutts in a snit because he feels Hoofnagle's ties to EPIC, which has advocated the shutdown of Gmail and Google Apps, should be referenced.

Cutts wants the disclosure to reflect Hoofnagle's bias in the report. I'm of two minds here. I think it's best to disclose everything to head off any attempts to discredit or undermine your position.

But I also think the players lobbying against the behavioral advertising that Google and Yahoo do are pretty established. They're not hiding anywhere.

Noting that Hoofnagle worked for EPIC merely underscores that the man has a history of coming down on the side of privacy advocates versus Internet companies, oh, and that he was part of a group that led a witch hunt on Gmail (Grrrrrrr).

It doesn't change the fact that the report is another rant, or weapon that folks such as Jeff Chester at the Center for Digital Democracy will use in lobbying for strict regulations for behavioral advertising.

I don't think Congress is confused about where Hoofnagle stands. He's shown his colors a while ago at EPIC.

And where behavioral ads are concerned, all that really matters is what Congress thinks because it's rewriting the rules on consumer privacy this fall.

According to the report, we also now know where the public stands on behavioral advertising: thumbs down. They surely don't care about Hoofnagle's resume.

Relax, Matt. This isn't your fight. Let the politicos hash it out and bring on Caffeine. But for the record, your concern is noted.

In the meantime, here are some standout points from the report, which found that while young adults are less opposed to behavioral advertising, they don't want tailored advertising if it stems from being tracked by Websites they don't visit:

  • Even when they are told that the act of following them on Web sites will take place anonymously, Americans' aversion to it remains: 68% "definitely" would not allow it, and 19% would "probably" not allow it.
  • A majority of Americans also does not want discounts or news fashioned specifically for them, though the percentages are smaller than the proportion rejecting ads.
  • 69% of American adults feel there should be a law that gives people the right to know everything that a website knows about them.
  • 92% agree there should be a law that requires "websites and advertising companies to delete all stored information about an individual, if requested to do so."
  • 63% believe advertisers should be required by law to immediately delete information about their internet activity.

More on Techmeme here. Search Engine Land's Greg Sterling notes search won't take the hit here as much as behavioral advertising.

I think search engines will get both barrels from Congress this fall. There is a perfect storm of discontent around search data collection and privacy concerns. We have the Google Book Search issue, among other things, to thank for that. |

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