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A Big Boo-Hoo for Digital Advertisers

illustration of ads on webpageI see from a recent spate of articles that the digital ad industry is quite upset with Apple’s new release of their Safari browser. The bone of contention is an increased emphasis on user privacy. Apple will be adding default settings that will alert users via pop-up notifications when Facebook or others try to collect tracking data, and make it harder to track people using digital fingerprinting techniques.

I’m afraid I shed few tears for a digital ad industry that has put itself in this position through abuse of its relationship with consumers – if you can call it a relationship.

Outside our media and digital industry bubbles, I would say few consumers have a true understanding of how they are tracked. Not only through cookies, which many people know about, but through the more insidious means of digital fingerprinting. This can track users using device information such as browser versions, installed fonts, plug-ins, or even typing habits.

Just because you can get your hands on a mountain of data on consumers, doesn’t mean it’s right to use it. And it only takes a few bad actors to spoil the well for everyone.

The Issues

Let’s consider some of what the industry is complaining about.

  • A reduction in personal tracking data could reduce personalization of content. Alright, I will give them this as a fair reason
  • It could reduce personalization of advertising. You mean the retargeting that hounds consumers for months or years after visiting a website once? Not a convincing reason.
  • Reducing personal tracking data can affect industry systems that ID fraudulent advertising. Why is this the consumer’s problem?
  • It deprives websites of advertising revenue. Again, why is that the consumer’s problem? Find a way to make money that works within what consumers are willing to share.
  • The implementation will require users to respond to a pop-up to allow tracking to proceed as before. This doesn’t seem to be a big price to pay to have consumers opt-in. Laughably, the industry talks about adding to a “blizzard of pop-ups” – and whose fault are all those pop-ups?

Looking at that list doesn’t sound much like advocacy for consumers; it sound more like an industry that doesn’t want to change.

Readers of this blog know I don’t have a lot of love for the promises of digital advertising, promises which go more to serve advertisers rather than consumers. Apple itself has a vested interest in advertising and advancing its own business plans, so its move here is not entirely altruistic – but it’s a breath of fresh air compared to other digital players.

David Tice is the principal of TiceVision LLC, a media research consultancy.
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