The current public debate over behavioral tracking often pits personalized service and targeted advertising as incompatible with protecting users’ privacy. These are not, however, dichotomous rivals invariably to be traded one for the other.
I believe that it is possible to provide both– giving users the substantial benefits of personalization while protecting their privacy.
By adopting “user-centric” solutions to protect privacy while preserving the ability to provide highly targeted content, relevant advertising and special offers, web publishers can enhance their users’ web experience, build a trusted relationship with their audience, and improve their own position vis-à-vis third-party ad networks in the online advertising ecosystem.
Currently, web publishers place their own or third-party tracking cookies or web bugs on visitors’ computers to track user behavior across the web. This practice powers the multibillion dollar web ad industry but increasingly puts users’ identity and behavior data at risk for identity theft and unacceptable intrusions of privacy.
In 2010, Congress, the FTC, various state attorneys general and consumer plaintiff’s lawyers have increasingly focused attention on this issue, and the industry has begun to respond.
Unfortunately, most current proposals to address the problem, including Do Not Track legislation, and simple disclosure, labeling and cookie blocking, will not provide effective privacy protection while still enabling robust advertising supported services. Both the industry and consumers need a better solution.
For the past several years, I’ve worked with leading software companies at the forefront of efforts dedicated to designing and building an open, user-centric identity layer for the web. There are now viable identity solutions targeted at the online marketing and advertising markets that empower users to own and control their online personal data while still benefiting from personalized services by sharing data selectively across devices with authorized parties.
With open data everyone wins: publishers strengthen their position as trusted intermediaries, consumers gain control over their data and knowledge of with whom and for what benefit it is shared, and advertisers gain access to higher quality opt-in data than that currently available through third-party tracking cookies.
By reconciling privacy concerns with targeted personalization, open data supports a robust advertising-supported online publishing industry for the benefit of publishers, consumers and advertisers alike.
Paul Trevithick is CEO and CTO of Azigo, a data wallet application.