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SearchTHIS: Google and Privacy

Kevin M. Ryan
SearchTHIS: Google and Privacy Kevin M. Ryan

There is a giant rock screaming toward earth and we have only eight days to stop it. It's what the movie "Armageddon" called a global killer. Who will help us? Just like in the movie, the federal government has broken into the patent office to steal the plans for the world's biggest and best drill. We'll fly up to the asteroid, drill a hole in it and blow that sucker sky high from the inside out.

Phew! Another crisis averted.

Of course, the government's smartest scientists couldn't get the drill right, so the guy who made it had to fly to the asteroid and do it himself. Patents might not apply to outer space, but what about cyberspace? In times of crisis can the government just break in and take what they want? Who determines the level of desperation needed for an all access pass?

Just when you thought your most private of thoughts were safe, the Justice Department has issued subpoena's to Microsoft, AOL, Yahoo! and Google to support yet another serious crisis.

Facts du jour
It's all about the porn, really. 1998's Child Online Protection Act (COPA) had an admirable goal: keep porn out of the hands of children. Yet for a whole lot of good reasons, several courts have knocked the statute down since then. The most recent effort was Ashcroft vs. American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in June, 2004. The Supreme Court upheld the block on enforcing COPA since it was likely to be unconstitutional. It is also worth noting that many other local and state laws have been passed to help protect children.

The ACLU is once again contending that COPA is in violation of the first amendment, while the Justice Department is once again seeking the ability to enforce COPA and has asked (read: ordered) some assistance from search providers in building a cogent argument. They hope to prove that parental controls and filters are not nearly enough protection for our kids, and they expect to support the argument with search data.

To date, of the search sites subpoenaed to provide information, Google is the only one that has refused. None of the other providers have publicly disavowed the request; Yahoo!, AOL and MSN have issued statements that they have provided at least some of the information requested and have taken steps to guard user privacy.

Protecting children from pornography is a noble effort, and the connected digital world has made tremendous strides in the battle, but should we sacrifice the constitution to get there? Moreover, should a search provider be compelled to offer information that might compromise a competitive advantage?

Wait, it gets better.

All the searches

Asking for the data is one thing; using it to determine the effectiveness of accidental porn viewing is another. Government lawyers have asked search providers for all the data relating to search terms and the sites users visited in the time period between June 1, 2005 and July 31, 2005.

There has yet to be a request for users' Internet Protocol or IP addresses that would identify users individually. Published court documents have indicated that a variety of search information has been requested. From complete indexed site lists to search terms and websites-- all with the intent of proving that web filters don't do the job and the strictest of controls must be implemented.
Historically, the fallout from negative publicity in the realm of consumer privacy online is nothing short of panic. We have new spyware/adware and cookie removal tools in the pipeline, and every week there's more news about compromised data. In an effort to have search sites do the heavy lifting in this suit, attorneys are merely fueling privacy paranoia.

And the ad dollars you rode in on

Privacy concerns are top of mind for internet users, and this translates immediately into a search provider's ability to generate revenue with targeted advertising.

Case in point: Upon receiving my shiny new computer this week, I had to download DivX player and Java Runtime environments. Both really wanted me to add either the Google Desktop or Toolbar, one of which came preinstalled in my machine.

Search behavior -- such as the terms used and the sites visited along with personally identifiable information kept in confidence -- will help define the future of search and search related advertising. The more we know about how users find what they need based on who they are, the better search will become.

Consumer confidence in how closely this information is guarded will determine how quickly we achieve search utopia.

When consumers hear that millions of records have been handed over, the details won't matter. The Justice Department isn't exactly being forthcoming about what they intend to with this data. A quick and quiet response to the subpoena with partial information may have been the best way to try and put it to bed, but that hope has been shattered by Google's defiance.

Have drill, will travel

It would take an asteroid the size of Texas to wake everyone up. Tell me you are using the online data to help hunt down terrorists and protect our homes. Tell me you want to show that malware and other intrusive forms of online terrorism are worth a series of federally funded programs to help stamp them out. Tell me the U.S. government is behind efforts to expand the global communication network and help bring the world's people together so we can concentrate on not killing one another.

Tell me anything but that you are trying to support an anti-porn law.

Google's mission in protecting its intellectual property and the rights of its users no doubt coincides with protecting growth plans. Those plans rely upon increased customization and a better user experience that, moving forward, will require more data collection and analysis. The ultimate yield of these efforts will be a better advertiser experience. This is the experience we all want, but will be terrified to provide if a precedent is established that we have no rights to privacy.

Good luck Google. Tell 'em I said to stuff that subpoena up their T1.

iMedia Search Editor Kevin Ryan's  current and former client roster reads like a "who's who" in big brands; Rolex Watch, USA, State Farm Insurance, Farmers Insurance, Minolta Corporation, Samsung Electronics America, Toyota Motor Sales, USA, Panasonic Services and the Hilton Hotels brands, to name a few. Ryan believes in sound guidance, creative thought, accountable actions and collaborative execution as applied to search, or any form of marketing. His principled approach and staunch commitment to the industry have made him one of the most sought after personalities in online marketing. Ryan volunteers his time with the Interactive Advertising Bureau, Search Engine Marketing Professional Organization and several regional non-profit organizations.
Mr. Ryan is managing partner at Kinetic Results.

Marketing resolution No. 1: Shift to programmatic

If you haven't at least been dabbling with buying your display, mobile, and video placements programmatically, you need to catch up quickly. Programmatic platforms have matured to the point where it makes more sense to buy and sell standard IAB units across display, mobile, and video on exchanges than through traditional IOs.

Operational efficiencies provide gains in the form for resource allocation and speed. As an example, it may take one month to execute a half dozen media buys the traditional way, but those same six buys can be done in a matter of hours programmatically. You can test quickly and achieve scale across placements at speeds that used to be operationally prohibitive. Since you will be using established channels, legal review is dramatically minimized or eliminated in a programmatic environment. The time you save can be reallocated to higher payout activities.

Programmatic targeting capabilities are superior and easier to execute. You have the ability to set your targets, using the data partnerships available in most programmatic platforms, by simply checking a box. Testing is quick, which makes it easy to hone in on the audiences that most effectively hit your goals.

Resolution No. 2: Invest in video

Video advertising isn't just for television anymore. Site, sound, and motion online can best be achieved through online video. There are several options available to you, and the first is utilizing video as an advertising medium. Most of your scale when it comes to video will fall into 15- and 30-second pre-rolls, although long-form video ad placements are available at a smaller scale. Technology advancements over the past couple of years have made it much more affordable to generate and distribute custom web video content. This is your opportunity to be creative and come up with a high-impact advertisement that appeals to the medium versus simply repurposing your television spots.

When it comes to purchasing your video ad placements, test out a mix of site-specific buys with video-specific programmatic inventory like Adap.tv and Brightroll. In addition to your traditional metrics, pay attention to video completion rates and engagement for more interactive video ads.

In addition to short-form ads, take a look at your content strategy as it relates to video. The medium is perfect for conveying details regarding your products or services. That said, keep in mind that this is the internet, not an infomercial. Less is more, so consider keeping content to three minutes or less.

Another consideration you have to make for your video content is whether or not to allow pre-roll advertising. This can be done in an open environment or can be limited to specific, third-party brands or your additional brands. Used correctly, it can be a strong revenue driver that can cover the cost of production and video advertising initiatives.

Resolution No. 3: Use first-party data

While using third-party data to enable targeting is better than no targeting at all, it is also the same targeting anyone else can use. Start using a combination of your own data along with first-party data from publishers in place of or to enhance targeting with third-party data.

The data you collect can be used to generate repeat purchases, promote brand loyalty programs, and to cross-sell products. In addition, you can use this data along with third-party data in order to generate lookalike audiences. Doing so will expand the size of your audience pool to increase the scale of your programs.

When the option is available, utilize the first-party data from the publisher who is hosting your ads. They will give you either browsing or transaction-level data, which will allow you to specifically target their site visitors.

Resolution No. 4: Focus on quality

Not all ads are created equal. There are a few areas where you can focus your energy that will increase the quality and, ultimately, the effectiveness of your placements.

First, look at what channels you purchase and what type of data you use. If you advertise on retail sites and layer in the retailer's first-party purchase data, you can be assured that your ad will not only reach a real person (bots don't shop), but that you will reach a consumer with specific purchase behavior that can translate to your campaign goals.

Second, look at where you display your ads when you are doing site-specific buys. Test various placements to see which ones do best for your brand. Keep in mind that below-the-fold placements may work well for you depending on content adjacency, overall site experience, and consumer engagement levels.

Finally, use 2015 to determine what role viewability plays for you. The MRC defines a viewable display ad as 50 percent of the ad pixels in view for at least one second. The recommended standard of 70 percent may be a good benchmark for some of your buys, but lower standards may make sense depending on the sites involved and the data you use. At the end of the day, use your analytics packages to determine the right benchmark for you based on advertising performance in relation to the cost of media.

Resolution No. 5: Step out of your comfort zone

Let me be clear: Stepping out of your comfort zone does not mean making wild and careless decisions. Instead, take a look at all of the methods at your disposal and pick a handful that are out of your comfort zone, but make up a calculated risk based on your objectives.

The level of discomfort you and your brand are willing to experience will vary, but keep in mind that breakthroughs never happen by playing it safe. If you're facing pushback, incorporate the first four recommended resolutions as starting points to move the needle into uncharted territory.

These five marketing resolutions complement each other. For example, when it comes to programmatic, first-party data can be integrated into your buys. With video, after you have tested flat pre-roll, spend time integrating interactivity and see how it impacts your results.

The bottom line is that you must take action. So make the commitment to your marketing resolutions and carefully watch how these changes impact your results. 

Sean Cheyney is the VP of sales and business development at Triad Retail Media.

On Twitter? Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet.

"New Year Decoration" image via Shutterstock.


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