With news of Facebook “unintentionally uploading” 1.5 million users’ email contacts, many are calling into question the extent to which social media companies can access our private information. Much of this discourse is centered around Facebook, but what are the implications of these concerns for retargeting and Internet cookies?
As a refresher, retargeting (also known as remarketing) is a form of online advertising that targets consumers and Internet users based on their most recent Internet actions. For example, if you exit out of the IKEA website with a red chair still in your cart, retargeting may lead to you seeing an ad for that IKEA chair while you browse YouTube. How do they accomplish this? Marketers use Internet cookies, which are small files that track people’s actions on a website and store their data.
The European Union has already made some steps in defining the boundaries of cookies with the ePrivacy directive and regulation, which aims to streamline the guidelines for cookie consent and create stricter enforcement of these rules. The US has some guidelines and protections through the FTC for Internet privacy and cookies as well, but so far there hasn’t been an overall consensus over the fate and ethics of retargeting...or has there?
As grim as it sounds, it seems that — at least for now— the decision over whether retargeting is ethical or not has already been made. With everyone focusing on companies like Facebook and Google obtaining our contacts and emails, not much attention has been paid to the thousands of companies utilizing cookies to market to consumers as they browse the Internet. For example, a quick Google search of “is retargeting ethical” has articles dating from 2012 and 2011 on the first page of searches, portraying the relative ambivalence that people seem to have. Earlier this year, Apple Inc. also “went to war” with Facebook and Google, accusing them of privacy violations and removing their enterprise certificates for Apple, adding to the publicity and fire surrounding the big tech companies and moving the discussion away from Internet cookies and retargeting.
Of course, the current status of remarketing is bound to change. After all, the only constant in life, and especially in marketing, is change. If Facebook’s rocky past two years have anything to show, they signal a consumer base that is becoming more and more concerned for and aware of their Internet privacy rights. This is the Information Age, and we’re getting to a point where there is one clear king —information itself.
So what does this mean for marketers? After all, marketing is all about using consumer data to increase sales and promote products. More to come…