Where Are the Limits of Privacy in Ad Data?

Advertising data is a huge boon to advertisers, particularly those working online.

The more closely an advertiser can tailor their ad to a specific demographic, the more likely they are to make the sale or get the click. While it seems merely useful for advertisers – and in some cases, indispensible – many users are starting to become seriously uncomfortable with the idea that their movements, on and offline, are being observed and recorded.

A surprising amount of offline data is currently referenced to online activity, meaning that public records can be mixed up with a browsing history to create a spot-on diagnostic for the type of person who is currently using the computer.

Advertising research has compiled data that includes everything from birth and bridal registries to warranties to licenses – all with the aim of providing appropriate advertising to that person. However, when targeted advertising becomes almost eerily spot-on, consumers begin to wonder whether the advertisers’ interests are really so benign.

One of the primary focuses of the complaints about privacy is Acxiom, which cross-references a plethora of information to find the exact consumers their advertising interests are looking for. For example, an advertiser might ask them to find the names and addresses of single mothers above a certain income bracket, whose children would soon be going to high school and who did not currently own a car.

That’s very specific. But it’s not an uncommon level of specificity. So far, privacy online is not regulated, and advertising industries argue that no such regulation is necessary. Consumers are increasingly unsure – and unhappy.