AT&T Secretly ‘In Bed’ With BT Firm?
AT&T which has publicly advocated on behalf of relatively stringent rules and opt-in requirements around behavioral targeting (BT) appears to have been working with BT firm Audience Science (formerly Revenue Science). Wendy Davis at MediaPost has written two related stories on the issue. Here’s her summary of the apparent contradiction between AT&T’s public position and […]
AT&T which has publicly advocated on behalf of relatively stringent rules and opt-in requirements around behavioral targeting (BT) appears to have been working with BT firm Audience Science (formerly Revenue Science). Wendy Davis at MediaPost has written two related stories on the issue. Here’s her summary of the apparent contradiction between AT&T’s public position and its behavior:
While many marketers work with online behavioral targeting companies, AT&T’s apparent relationship with Audience Science is striking because the telecom has publicly said that behavioral advertising — or tracking people as they surf the Web and serve ads based on the sites they visit — requires consumers’ explicit consent. Audience Science, like most behavioral targeting companies, allows consumers to opt out of targeting, but doesn’t seek their affirmative consent to it.
Dorothy Attwood, AT&T senior vice resident, public policy and chief privacy officer, testified before Congress Thursday that the company believes that behavioral advertising requires “affirmative, advance action by the consumer.” The hearing, held by a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee, was mainly focused on how network operators can monitor consumers using deep packet inspection and other technology.
A spokesperson for AT&T initially told Online Media Daily that the company does not use behavioral targeting. When told that Audience Science’s Web site listed AT&T as a client, the spokesperson said he would investigate.
He did not offer further comment, but Audience Science’s Web site had been changed by late Thursday, and AT&T’s name no longer appeared as an Audience Science advertiser partner.
It’s not exactly clear whether AT&T is using BT in its capacity as a publisher or delivering user data to Audience Science as an ISP — or both. Without reviewing all the controversy around BT, the US Federal Trade Commission has allowed the online ad industry to self-regulate for the time being with a “we’re watching you” caveat. Here’s what FTC Commissioner Jon Leibowitz said in February of this year:
In sum, almost all of us want to see self-regulation succeed in the online arena, but the jury is still out about whether it alone will effectively balance companies’ marketing and data collection practices with consumers’ privacy interests. A day of reckoning may be fast approaching.
Congress continues to be interested in the subject of online ad targeting as all the major online publishers and ad networks get more aggressive about targeting in an effort to boost response. Yahoo and Google are both using BT. And Yahoo recently started using search queries as part of the BT mix.
ISPs in the US and UK were set to work with BT companies NebuAd and Phorm respectively. While efforts with Phorm in the UK appear to still be going forward (though not without problems), several US ISPs have been “spooked” by criticism and have backed away from working with NebuAd, which is probably going to have to change its model or die accordingly.
BT works, but publishers and technology companies too hungry for clicks and conversions are sewing the seeds of regulation with their lack of disclosures and aggressive techniques. I woudn’t be surprised if a federally mandated “do not track” list came into being in the not-too-distant future.