Saturday, 30 June 2012

Social re-targeting

The premise of social re-targeting is to map people's social connections when they use certain sharing apps or send links by e-mail. This lets advertisers know about people may be interested in a product and then aim advertisements at that person's friends, family, or acquaintances as well. So whereas behavioural advertising follows you around the web, social behavioural advertising follows your friends too as constituted by your “social graph”.

There’s an interesting (yet fairly stock) industry quote on this trend in Technology Review from Allie Kline, chief marketing officer at 33Across. She says that "The kind of advertising that we run, on the scale of privacy, is at a 1 or a 2 compared to catalogues who are selling your physical address ... The paranoia is all because it's the Internet." What these people do not seem to get is that they do have an upfront right to track people and take data without consent. I see it as less as a case of “threat”, although leaked data is much more common that data controllers may care to admit, but rather as an issue of consent. Negative responses to automated word-of-mouth advertising is not a case of paranoia, but one of decency and dignity. Snooping and comodifying friendship networks without consent is not good practice. Indeed, this raises the question too on who might possibly give consent. Is it the person who is looking up prices for a snowboarding trip or the person who receives the socially targeted advertisement?

I wonder, has any behavioural advertiser actually tried proper upfront consent in the full spirit of opt-in processes? Add some personalisation functionality, ensure we only get advertisements we are interested in and who knows – people might even like it. There is nothing innately wrong about letting people know that you have something to sell that may be of interest to someone, so why so much cloak and dagger? Given the number of ad-exchanges out there, could one designed with privacy from the ground up turn privacy concerns into a positive?


Richard Coyne said...

I've enjoyed reading The Mood of Information, and this post. I've posted some responsive thoughts at

Andrew McStay said...

Hi Richard, I enjoyed your post and also left some thoughts on your blog.

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I am director of the Media and Persuasive Communication (MPC) network at Bangor University where I also lecture on political-economy of the media. I am currently working on a book provisionally titled Deconstructing Privacy for Peter Lang and leading two empirical projects in connection with privacy perception and the use of new media for smoking cessation. I am author of Creativity and Advertising: Affect, Events and Process (Routledge, 2013); The Mood of Information: A Critique of Behavioural Advertising (Continuum, 2011); and Digital Advertising (Palgrave-MacMillan, 2009). Please contact me at if you are interested in Ph.D supervision or consultancy services.