Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Opt-In ISP Targeting: ATT Mulls a Different Route

As the NebuAd controversy has materialized, one of the principal criticisms of their agreements with ISPs -- and about BT in general, has been the reliance on an opt-out model. As you know, opt out requires the consumer to actively engage and tell the ISP and BT providers, "No, don't track me." The alternative, opt in, hasn't gotten a lot of traction, at least in the US, principally because there is an expectation that most people would not bother to opt in even if they were fine with the idea of targeted advertising.

Based upon the feedback provided by major ISPs in their responses to the House Energy and Commerce Committee, however, it appears that one major ISP is considering opt in as the right thing to do. This according to an analysis last week in the NY Times Here is an excerpt from Saul Hansell's analysis of ATT's vision:

While the company said it hadn’t tested such a system for monitoring display advertising viewing habits or committed to a particular technology, it expressed much more interest in the approach than the other big Internet providers who also responded to the committee’s letter.

AT&T did however promise that if it does decide to start tracking its customers online, it will “do so the right way.” In particular, the advertising system will require customers to affirmatively agree to have their surfing monitored. This sort of “opt-in” approach is preferred by privacy experts to the “opt-out” method, practiced by most ad targeting companies today, which records the behavior of anyone who doesn’t explicitly ask to not to be tracked.

The passage and entire article interested me greatly because ATT fully discloses their keen interest in participating in the online ad revenue boom, but their parallel determination to ensure that consumers are satisfied with their approach and choose to participate.

This is nothing short of gutsy. I have to admit that I have never seen opt in as a realistic solution for the current approaches to BT because while the consumer does receive value in the form of better online content paid through higher CPMs, they do not get something tangible in their hands for participation. I think this benefit is too abstract for most consuemrs to grasp and value. I do NOT subscribe to the theory that targeted advertising has significant consumer value to the average consumer, at least in the rational abstract.

Is ATT right? I hope so -- this is definiotely a situation in which I would be delighted to be wrong. And perhaps they are anticipating a different consumer value proposition for the solution they ultimately select. Is it possible that ATT is seeking a solution that provides real consumer value in exchange for participation? And I mean REAL consumer value, not their ersatz value trumped by companies like Phorm with their phish protector.

It's going to be interesting to see what happens.

Thanks for reading, and don't forget to write.

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