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Cookies on steroids: Caveat emptor for consumers?

By on Aug 21, 2011 No Comments

A recent Wall Street Journal report about “stealthy super-cookies” has expectedly alarmed privacy advocates and consumers. The Journal article citing research findings from Stanford and UC Berkeley says these cookies on steroid “are capable of re-creating users’ profiles after people deleted regular cookies”. The supercookies not only resurrect deleted data but ensure their presence goes undetected.

Somewhat astonishingly the patrons of these phoenix like appartitions were major websites such as msn and Hulu both of whom promptly promised to take action to investigate and remedy the situation. The Journal article noted that these souped-up methods were not in such “wide use” a year ago when the paper first reported on privacy issues stemming from online tracking.

In a bid to pre-empt regulation, the online ad industry claims that they have initiated several voluntary measures to address privacy issues with representatives like the Digital Advertising Alliance stating that there has been “tremendous progress.” Validating that thesis was a recent poll by TRUSTe, an online privacy solutions provider, which revealed a need for increased, proactive measures to build consumer trust and understanding about online behavioral advertising (OBA) by providing enhanced notice and consumer choice outside a typical privacy policy.

A supposedly common “misconception” that leads to privacy concerns among conserns is that personally identifiable information (PII) is widely shared. TRUSTe also noted that consumers “are becoming more comfortable with OBAs “as they learn that this advertising technology does not use PII to deliver relevant advertisements.” Maybe so. Some real-time targeting companies claim to have a “secret sauce” that focuses on finding desirable audience characteristics via “rapid automated testing and user-level targeting” to “find the individuals that matter“. The successful campaigns run the gamut of industries including hospitality where they boosted business travel by drilling down to business travelers and owners.

It is assumed that the algorithms that underlie the “sauces” for the campaigns do not make use of, much less retain, PII. Nevertheless, it would behoove the companies who employ these “wonder kids” who devise these campaigns to take note of Truste’s findings that “clear and open communications about OBA can build a foundation of trust where consumers will engage more frequently.” To qouote a trite but true saying; perception is reality. Consumer privacy seems a chimera to many even though the reality is that most, though not all, marketers do not deliberately seek to infringe on consumer privacy.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

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