Privacy in Mobile and Emerging Media | Mobile Marketing Association
December 18, 2008

By Bob Walczak, CEO of Ringleader Digital

It took some time for the online advertising industry to begin to address the multitude of privacy concerns that arose during its early days. The combination of self-regulating bodies, federal legislation, and advancements in technology all worked collectively to help protect us. Emerging media channels, like mobile advertising, are at a level of maturity where online advertising was 10 years ago.

Given their anywhere portability and anytime accessibility, mobile devices are a much more personal media channel. After all, it’s a phone, a PDA enabling applications like email, instant and text messaging and internet surfing, but is also a multimedia device. Now add the combination of cellular, WI-FI, and Bluetooth technologies, and you have very personal databases that can be opened up to many more touch points. Given the ultimate advertising potential of all this, we’ve only scratched the surface on the privacy issues that will arise out of this new media.

The Alphabet Soup of Privacy
On the regulatory side, in the US, the Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission have been leading many of the privacy hearings related to online advertising. However, mobile also introduces the Telemarketing Sales Rule along with the FCC into the mix.

Although free market ideals may not have worked for our economy as of late, self regulation has been very successful in the online world. The NAI (Network Advertising Initiative), the OPA (Online Publisher’s Association), the IAB (Interactive Advertising Bureau) and even TRUSTe have all worked towards developing the online standards that exist today. Add the Mobile Marketing Association (MMA) on top of the alphabet soup of regulatory bodies and industry associations, and you can see how things might start to get complex.

Targeted Advertising
For advertising to be effective, the advertiser must have access to some basic information about the consumer and his or her interests. This has been the framework for targeted advertising, whether it’s credit card companies tracking our spending habits, or the amount of data that direct marketers have on consumers; targeted advertising has been employed long before the online world came to realize it’s potential.

Users complain about the annoyance advertising poses to them and that’s because untargeted advertising has very little relevance to the consumer’s interest or needs. However, providing relevant advertising should be less intrusive to the consumer and ultimately improves the overall user experience.

There’s been a lot of recent press around disclosure policies, so I would be remiss if I didn’t add my thoughts. As consumers, it’s important for us to understand how websites collect and use information about us. And I’m sure we’re all guilty of agreeing to those ‘easy-to-read’ Terms and Conditions on websites that very few of us actually read. I’ve often wondered when someone is going to knock on my door and tell me that I’ve basically agreed to let the owners of the site stay at my place every other Tuesday!

From my perspective, rather than having long Privacy Statements which users have to continuously scroll through (imaging doing that on your mobile device), a better user experience would be to create descriptive categories of privacy (No Personal Information shared, Personal Information Shared for Advertising Only, etc…). The category labels can include a link to full disclosure statements, should anyone actually want to read them. The categories should be defined by industry standards, which will eventually become relatively common knowledge.

It’s Time to Pay Attention
As penetration of mobile advertising continues to expand, it needs to learn from the experiences of its big brother. Rather than wait for privacy issues to arise tainting the user experience, it’s imperative that we try to pre-empt the issues by developing privacy standards for the mobile world now. We have the good fortune to be able to use existing online initiatives as a model, and modify them for mobile. Let’s protect the industry now, rather than defending it in the future.