US government oversight on cross-device targeting will curb ad blocking

For marketers, the idea of being able to cultivate data about consumers has obvious appeal. On the consumer side, it doesn’t seem like such a great idea. In fact, there’s a word often evoked related to such data collection and targeting.

Creepy.

A few years ago, consumers used the term to describe desktop-based retargeting ads that used data from cookies. In the mobile era, the sentiment is now being attributed to cross-device tracking. The Daily Beast, for instance, recently discussed cross-device under the heading of “Scary New Ways the Internet Profiles You.”

Whether consumers are scared or merely annoyed, many have embraced ad blockers to limit their exposure. While consumers are taking matters into their own hands, the Federal Communications Commission Chairman advanced a proposal recently that would bar broadband providers from collecting user data without consent. The Center for Digital Democracy, a privacy advocacy group, has asked the FCC to go further and address data collection across devices as well. The group is asking that new rules require the “informed, prior consent of the customer.” In other words, the system would be opt-in.

While this might seem to work against the interest of our industry, more stringent rules might stem the tide of ad blockers and make the process less creepy for consumers.

How did we get so creepy?

Consumers are used to the idea that an advertiser can follow their cookie trail on their desktop browser, but they are not yet used to the idea of advertisers veering off course to their very intimate mobile devices.

While ISPs are using personally identifiable information, Google, Facebook and a few others are using login environments. These players should inform users in an accessible and understandable fashion on how they are collecting cross device data. It has taken 15 years for the cookie consent on browser to become a standard, it will have to take less time for this to extend to cross device if we want to avoid major privacy concerns and ad blocking proliferation.

For some, cross-device tracking has become the new embodiment of Big Brother. Having government oversight might help some of these users feel more at ease with the new realities of digital advertising.

If not creeped out, consumers are annoyed

Increased government oversight is not the only solution to the creepiness problem and the consequential ad blocking that is plaguing advertising. A lack of industry ethics also plays a role.

The creepiness factor is wrapped up in the fact that there is no cross-device capping and that publishers are not always taking the user experience into consideration when serving ads on mobile devices.

The capping issue is a big one. Cross-device targeting technologies have advanced but capping across devices has not been perfected, expect by using personalised login data. A consumer would only have to see an ad of a product just a few times across their devices, with more efficiency. Research tend to show that three to five (depending on product category) is the optimum number for such exposures across devices. This avoids annoying the consumer by bombarding them with messages they’ve already seen.

Publishers also need to be more cognizant of the mobile experience. Many consumers complain of slow load times and other hiccups due to ads on their mobile devices. In fact, Google has created an entirely new AMP (Accelerated Mobile Pages) program to address issues like these on the mobile device. If publishers adopt a consumer-first strategy on mobile, consumers will embrace more mobile ads, and we can finally reach the point where traditional ads are finally transformed into real value added services.

Regulation in the ad industry

Ad blocking is not going anywhere. The most recent data projects that it could cost media owners $12 billion by 2020. Yet with its continued rise, there is backlash from publishers and consumers as they are beginning to understand and accept that digital advertising is their means for doing almost everything they do online for free. The value exchange is becoming more clear: data for content.

FCC oversight coupled with higher industry standards might help to make some consumers feel as though there are check and balances in place supporting this data exchange. It might make some consumers feel more comfortable giving up information about some of their online habits for the ability to do just about all that they do online.

Fred Joseph is COO of S4M

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