Behavioural advertising has caused a bit of a furore recently, particularly in the UK, with Phorm and BT taking a fair amount of flak.

Google have just launched themselves into the space, and now the IAB have issued good practice guidelines which come into force in Sep 2009.

The behavioural advertising from Google appears to have the most in the way of control over setting ad preferences, although many seem concerned over the fact that all of these seem to be opt-out rather than opt-in. Not only that but the fact that personalisation of the ads is based on user behaviour online, yet without being able to discriminate who is using the computer that the targeted ads are being aimed at.

For instance, it may be a family PC, in which case there may well be ads targeted because of user behaviour based on, say, the father’s surfing habits, which are then shown to the children.Not only are these not going to be relevant ads, but potentially there is the risk that the ads are inappropriate.

Currently what we have is contextual advertising, where the ads served are relevant to the content on the page, whereas behavioural advertising is where the ads served are relevant to a far broader set of actions across the whole of user activity online. This has been likened to the supermarket looking at your till receipt and making offers to you based on your shopping versus the supermarket watching where you go and what you do in your daily life and making offers to you based on a far wider spectrum of personal information.

Obviously, this has raised the hackles of many of the privacy groups, who do not feel that advertisers, or those serving the technology for behavioural advertising should have access to this level of information, particularly if it can be misused.

This story is likely to run and run – watch this space.

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