Microsoft stirred up a hornet’s nest among US advertisers a couple of weeks ago when it introduced a new version of Bing. Why? Because version 10 of its internet Explorer browser in Windows 8, which accompanied the Bing relaunch, has apparently gone soft on the civil liberties lobby, and set up a nasty precedent for restraint of trade.
Need a bit more unpacking? Fair enough. It’s our old friend behavioural targeting – sometimes called behavioural analytics – that’s causing advertisers’ pulses to race. BT is the new frontier, allowing advertisers to plot an accurate path through our internet interests via specially implanted cookie files (more on this in my earlier post here). Without it, they are flying blind, or rather they are dependent on old-fashioned demographics-based contextual advertising, which is a bit like trying to find your bearings from a soggy map in the open-air cockpit of a pre-war biplane.
Anyway, back to Microsoft. It has embedded a ‘Do Not Track’ functionality in its highly popular browser, with a default setting in the ‘On’ position. And the Association of National Advertisers, the US equivalent of our Incorporated Society of Practitioners in Advertising (ISBA), is very angry about it:
“Microsoft’s decision, made without industry discussion or consensus, undercuts years of tireless, collaborative efforts across the business community — efforts that were recently heralded by the White House and Federal Trade Commission as an effective way to educate consumers and address their concerns regarding data collection, targeted advertising and privacy. We reject efforts by any provider or other group to unilaterally impose choices on the consumer in this critical area of the economy…”
…Says Bob Liodice, President & CEO, of ANA. Just why ‘imposing choices on the consumer’ is such a bad thing is not immediately apparent. Surely choice is at the core of the consumer society? But we know what he means: Microsoft hasn’t exactly been helpful to the cause.
I have yet to discover whether Microsoft will be inflicting a similar burden of choice on consumers in Europe. UK advertisers have been breathing a collective sigh of relief now that the tireless efforts of ISBA, the Internet Advertising Bureau and EASA (European Advertising Standards Alliance), which had been arguing for a laissez allez approach to BT, have finally borne fruit. Privacy regulator The Information Commissioner’s Office (director general, Chris Graham, pictured) has, after much havering, decided that what the new EU ePrivacy directive actually means is “implied consent” to carry on cookie-tracking. Which comes as a huge relief to thousands of website owners, let alone advertisers, who feared they were going to have to bombard users with countless trade-impairing pop-up warnings every time they wanted to activate a cookie. “Implied consent”, in other words, firmly shifts responsibility in law from the advertiser and website owner to the user.
Not unnaturally, the industry has praised Graham – former director-general of the Advertising Standards Authority – for his ‘pragmatism.’ But doubts remain about what will happen to the British position – which is, shall we say, a unique interpretation of the ePrivacy directive – once it is tested by case law elsewhere in the Community. Doubtless Microsoft’s decision back in the Land of the Free will not be considered helpful.