The Better to Track You – Online Privacy and Tracking ID’s

Users should be in control.  Or at least be able to.

Users should be in control. Or at least be able to.

This was the week of a new iOS and new iPhones, but it was also the week of some interesting online tracking news, too.  After upgrading to iOS7 I was pleased to see a new privacy area in settings and played around alittle.  I felt like I was in control. When I then read about Google considering implementing a new online tracker which would also give users control, I felt even better.  Seems like we might be getting some slivers of control.  <INSERT GOLF CLAP>

Control is something I have talked about before.  Put users in control of their data.  Google and Apple are looking at it from the perspective of data collection.  As a brand you need to think about it on the data use side.  Control remains a very important leg of my three-legged stool.  I think that what Apple and Google are doing is right.  The practical part of me realizes that a significant percentage of users will not even visit the privacy settings on their phone, or turn off Google’s AdID.  That’s just reality.  You can lead the horse to water, but they are just to big to force them to drink.  Let’s look in more detail what Apple did in iOS7 and then what Google is doing.

Privacy gets a menu option, why did it take so long?

First of all, privacy gets a spot at the adults table, sort of.  It’s actually below the fold on the Settings screen, but a little scrolling down reveals it.  Through this one screen you get to access how applications make use of the various services available on your phone, such as photos, reminders and contacts.  You also see in one place what other apps have access to your Twitter and Facebook tokens.  This is great.  ZDNet wrote a really good article on what you should turn off and it’s a nice primer on things you might consider.

Quite frankly I was surprised by the Microphone section.  When I saw this I flashed to the scene in Dark Knight where Batman is able to access all microphones in all the mobiles in Gotham.  I am trying to figure out why an app would need access to the microphone when I wasn’t in the app.  Aside from that, through this new Privacy section I can see which apps want that.  If there was an app that did, I can quickly go “oh no, you didn’t” and turn that off.

As to tracking you can also ‘Limit Ad Tracking’ and  reset the Advertising Identifier.  Remember that Apple forced developers to ditch using the Unique Device ID (UDID) in favor of the Identifier for Advertising (IDFA).  This was done in iOS6 but I don’t recall being able to control it so well.  Granted, I will lose some of my contextualization, but I am in control.  That is the key.  The user can be in control.

Go ahead and look more at the ZDNet article and review what you are now doing as you upgrade to iOS7 and take control.  Now let’s look at another aspect of more user control.

I like cookies, but I don’t like Cookies

The word cookies could be a four letter word for all the negative feelings around them.  Ever since the first cookie was developed we all cried about being tracked online.  It led to things like cookie blockers and munchers.  It led to online ‘do not track’  policy in the US and stringent cookie regulation in Europe.  When the use of cookies is explained to users fully, most recognize the benefit they get.  There are two problems.  The first is that most people are not informed about the value exchange going on.  They are not informed at all about the placement of cookies, in some cases.  That leads to the second problem, the hidden placing of third party cookies.  You may get a cookie from the website you visit, say www.website.com.  What you may not know is that a another company, say Cookies’R’Us provides analytical services to the website and they place a third party cookie there.  They track your visits on that website but also correlate it to your visits to other websites.

Google may be killing that revenue stream there.  According to the USA Today, it could shake up what is now a $120 billion market for digital advertising.  Google is developing an anonymous identified for advertising, or AdID.  This use of an AdID closely mirrors what Apple is doing with their IDFA.  It puts users in control.  I would assume that once implemented, I would have a setting somewhere in my browser that would allow me to control its use.  Perhaps even a little ball of green (for money, of course) in the bottom UI bar that alerted me when data was being collected.

Online advertisers are watching this very closely.  They want to deliver true individualized messaging or content.  Contextualized marketing, if done right, just becomes great content to the consumer.  I think we all want this.  The problem for advertisers is that it puts control in the big companies, says Mike Zaneis, general counsel for the Interactive Advertising Bureau.  He is worried that Google could deprecate the ID and undermine ad spending.  Good worry, but as a consumer privacy advocate, I am not so worried about them.  I am worried about what we should be getting as consumers.

Put users in control, and then watch them not use it

All these new technologies and new settings are a bit of a moot point, practically.  The problem is consumer’s general malaise when it comes to their own privacy.  A balance needs to be struck with making these things available and obvious enough and making it cumbersome and in the way.  I think Apple’s new Privacy area is a great balance (though I would love to see it above the fold).  I also think that putting users in control of their online tracking, like Google is proposing, is a great move as well.  I wouldn’t worry though, if I was an advertiser.  Some will not even notice, or care.  Most others will understand that they get a benefit.  It may make your job alittle harder, but you are a consumer too.  Think about yourself and breathe.

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