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Targeted Advertising - Where is the boundary between right and wrong?
Wednesday 03 February 2010 09:28:23 by Sebastien Lahtinen

Virgin Media customers visiting bt.com may find themselves being profiled on the home page seeking to persuade them to switch their service from Virgin to BT. It would appear that anyone visiting the BT site from a Virgin Media broadband connection is shown a different advert which links to a campaign which outlines the telephone, broadband and television service offered by BT:


Comparison of BT.com - Virgin Media user (left); Other users (right)

We are not aware if Virgin customers are the only ones being targeted in this way, but this type of marketing is certainly quite common.

Targeted advertising is a hot topic on the Internet with more and more sites using such techniques to provide more relevant advertising. This means that one day you might be browsing books on Amazon, and the next day whilst visiting a completely unrelated website (such as thinkbroadband), you see an advert for a book you might be interested in based on the profile built on your preferences over time. This kind of issue does raise some privacy questions, although we should add that all BT are doing in this case is saying "Hello Virgin Customer!" which in itself is not really profiling, merely providing the user with a customised greeting in the form of an advert based on their IP address. This is a bit like a BMW dealer saying "Wouldn't you prefer to trade in your Mercedez for one of our cars?" having seen the car you arrived in.

But where do you draw the line?

Many websites you visit, ourselves included, will use ad networks such as Google to provide relevant advertising whilst allowing them to focus on writing the best content, rather than hiring a salesman to sell advertising. Recently, having visited one major hotel chain's website, I keep seeing banner adverts from that chain encouraging me to stay at one of their hotels. I certainly find this useful, as I would prefer advertising that is relevant to me as it means I am more likely to respond to advertising I see. Similarly, if you are visiting our site, you are obviously someone with an interest in broadband, so you may find adverts on another site about broadband services are topical.

This may seem all positive, so where's the problem? The examples often cited by privacy advocates often argue against targeted advertising revolve around shared use computers. For example, if you were shopping around for an engagement ring, you could find that your surprise has been spoiled when your partner starts getting suspicious about the advertising for wedding services. Of course, this should all be fixed by using separate profiles, or sometimes by features in web browsers such as "Incognito Window" (Google Chrome) or "Private Browsing" (FireFox), or "InPrivate Browsing" (IE), but there is the possibility that some targeting may be based on IP address, so even these are not a guarantee.

So what's the fuss about?

The strongest objections against profiling have been targeted at Phorm, a company that specialises in 'hijacking' traffic at your broadband service provider, and then injecting information that allows profiles to be built. Whilst this system does use cookies, and can be disabled quite easily, the objections centre on the method by which the data is collected, namely interception. Here, these companies contract with the broadband service providers rather than individual websites being visited, and users often feel this is an invasion of their privacy. Such companies build profiles by way of categories you might be interested in, such as "sports" or more precise areas like "one day cricket". They claim to avoid sensitive subjects such as medical conditions, but this has not alleviated the concerns of a vocal group of users.

Phorm is by no means the sole company in this area, although their name has been associated with all the criticisms of this technology. A couple of years ago, I was discussing the industry with a PR company representative who was working on an account for one of these companies. I asked them why their client didn't just allow the individual not only to opt out from advertising, but see exactly which categories they were profiled for, and even allow them to edit those categories themselves.

Targeted advertising is bound to increase, and informed opt-in is likely to yield the best results in terms of conversion. The key for companies offering this service is to put the user in control.

Comments

Posted by Clive_ over 7 years ago
Got one saying to switch from TalkTalk while I'm with AOL. I guess because they both show up as part of the Opal network.
Posted by Sandgrounder over 7 years ago
This is one area where dynamic IP addresses are a real benefit.

And, of course, browsers need to be set to accept session cookies only - with a few very specific exceptions.
Posted by docki over 7 years ago
Well, for me if they can include her in the deal i'm in! lol
Posted by docki over 7 years ago
I don't know what's going on then. I've connected to a VPN in france Los Angeles and Holland and it shows my IP has changed. Clearing all cookies and cache and I still get the switch to VM page.
Posted by Dixinormous over 7 years ago
The key is informed opt-in. If one reads what some privacy advocates say about targetted advertising it'll eat your first born. Cutting through the mass of misinformation is a challenge.
Posted by KarlAustin over 7 years ago
"This is one area where dynamic IP addresses are a real benefit."

Not really, as in the case of the BT advert it'd still show as an IP for your ISP. Nothing wrong with that kind of advertising IMHO, your IP is public information pretty much.
Posted by mishminx over 7 years ago
Amazon have been trying to tell me what books I might like to read for years. I also like websites that tell you what others looked at / bought based on your browsing. I don't like adverts that follow you around the web though and will simply block them. The BT Ad is no different to the forum sig toys that tell you your IP, ISP and so on. Useful advertising is fine, stalkish advertising that follows you like a drunk on heat in a pub, just no!
Posted by whatever2 over 7 years ago
"I asked them why their client didn't just allow the individual not only to opt out from advertising, but see exactly which categories they were profiled for, and even allow them to edit those categories themselves."

Good good... WHAT WAS THE ANSWER????
Posted by CARPETBURN over 7 years ago
Why would anyone with Virgin want to switch to BT... I dont think much of either company but lets face it Virgin offer faster internet speeds, more TV channels and better phone package deals... I imagine Virgin customers will look at the BT pages laugh at what they can offer and then carry on as normal.
Posted by CARPETBURN over 7 years ago
If BT want to play silly games i can just imagine a new Virgin TV advert now, pointing out the inferior fibre speeds BT offer, pointing out how BT are crying like babies trying to get rights to Sky Sports on Vision, pointing out how they can offer better phone packages... BT must be very dumb to start playing this game of trying to pinch the customers. Would make sense if they could atleast in technical terms offer more but they cant lol
Posted by 2doorsbob over 7 years ago
@carpetburn quote... BT are crying like babies trying to get rights to Sky Sports on Vision,..ect lol carpet reading your posts about BT is funnier than watching lee evans
Posted by GMAN99 over 7 years ago
"Posted by Sandgrounder about 11 hours ago
This is one area where dynamic IP addresses are a real benefit." - No not really as ISP's buy a block of IP Addresses, doesn't matter whether your dynamic or static you will still get an address from your ISP which can identify you.
Posted by kemshea over 7 years ago
The Dell advert on the ThinkBroadband speedtest results page is customer specific. I have been looking at Dell laptops recently - in particular the studio 17 model - and this is always the model that the Dell advert shows when I am on that webpage.
Posted by sadoldman over 7 years ago
Carpetburn, please try to look at the bigger picture, this is basically not about the two ISP's that are being used to make a point.
The bigger picture is that we are going to get targeted advertising, it will grow and has it's advantages for both parties, consumer and advertiser, but allowing the consumer to be in control of the process is the key.
Posted by AndrueC over 7 years ago
@Carpetburn - yeah it does seem odd at first glance. OTOH if the VM user arrived at the BT site it can be assumed that they chose to go there for some reason. A couple of possibles:

* Disgruntled customer fed up with VM customer service.

* VM customer moving to the 50% of the country where VM can't be bothered to roll-out their fibre.

In those cases it's not so much about BT v. VM. It's BTr v. other retail providers.
Posted by AndrueC over 7 years ago
As for targeted advertising it seems like a minor issue. If you don't like adverts there are ways to avoid seeing any of them.
Posted by otester over 7 years ago
If you're stupid enough to go with BT for any reason then you deserve all you get.

@AndrueC

VM have a lot of debt just like BT, once that's paid off and the government gives some kind of incentive, then maybe we'll see some more areas cabled.
Posted by chrysalis over 7 years ago
few points I wish to make (a) dynamic ip wont help on this as it would still be a VM ip, (b) this is not similiar to phorm and I see nothing wrong with these BT ads profiled to ip address range, (c) the ads indicate BT are playing their only card which is bargain basement prices since technically they inferior.
Posted by AndrueC over 7 years ago
@otester:If wishes were fishes we'd all cast nets :)

http://business.timesonline.co.uk/tol/business/industry_sectors/media/article5076037.ece

What you say is correct but right now VM are a long, long way from paying off their debts. Quite the opposite in fact. Speculating on what they might do if/when by some miracle they become debt free is pretty pointless IMO.
Posted by CARPETBURN over 7 years ago
quote"(c) the ads indicate BT are playing their only card which is bargain basement prices since technically they inferior."

Exactly, this is nothing like phorm its just BT trying their same old tricks to try and pinch customers from other companies..... Im a LLU ADSL2+ customer the amount of times BT have rang me up babbling on about their great broadband and lying they could give me better speed than the 18Mb i currently get. This is basically the same, them trying to pinch customers from a TECHNICALLY superior product
Posted by GMAN99 over 7 years ago
And other companies don't use "same old tricks" to poach from competitors? Its the game Carpetburn see it for what it is and not yet another excuse to bleat on about how much you hate BT. Its happens in all industries <blinkers>
Posted by tommy45 over 7 years ago
Typical of BT to do this, they want business ha,ha, that is a big joke ,they should maintain their lines ect and stay in touch with the rest of Europe do your self a favour stay clear of BT,Broadband, they are not interested in adsl,especially when you have a problem with your line, that is really down to them for failure to keep it in good order at all times, i just wish i didn't have top pay the rip off line rental
Posted by CARPETBURN over 7 years ago
quote"And other companies don't use "same old tricks" to poach from competitors? Its the game Carpetburn see it for what it is and not yet another excuse to bleat on about how much you hate BT. Its happens in all industries <blinkers>"

Other companies dont do the same thing, Virgin for example have never phoned me up trying to get my custom with cold calling...... Likewise i know of no other ISP which targets adverts to users of another ISP to try and pinch customers, can you show examples?
Posted by Somerset over 7 years ago
From the TalkTalk website:

When you check broadband availability you will be called by TalkTalk on the number above to discuss your broadband requirements.
Posted by otester over 7 years ago
@AndrueC

I heard BT is also going to be in a similar situation soon, looking at their profit margins on a yearly fall, by about the same time as VM, they will fail to break even.
Posted by chrysalis over 7 years ago
agree with CB that BT is the only isp I know off that cold calls to get custom. They use 3rd party companies to try and keep themselves distance. aka callvalue.
Posted by tommy45 over 7 years ago
I have had the marketing calls from them, a series of "silent calls"and i'm registered with the tps,
They were trying to sell their unreliable, super slow broadband,when i rang bt about it,they said that i had allowed them to call,maybe but not for marketing calls, so i changed this,i if want something I'll ask about /for it,i don't need calls from bloody parasites.
Posted by GMAN99 over 7 years ago
@Carpetburn,

I regularly get letters from Virgin and Sky asking me to move to them, what is the difference? Phone call, letter in the mail, advert on a site? They all want you to move to them, its the same in all industries, Utilities/Insurance/Mortgage...
Posted by CARPETBURN over 7 years ago
quote"I regularly get letters from Virgin and Sky asking me to move to them, what is the difference? Phone call, letter in the mail, advert on a site?"

Are these letters addressed directly to you or are they addressed to just 'the occupier'?
The only time Virgin send directly addressed mail is if you have shown an interest in their service, otherwise its just mass mailout to the occupier stuff.
The difference, you ask...... I thought that was obvious, BT are specifically targetting a market area and trying to steal customers from a SINGULAR ISP with their web site shenanigans
Posted by CARPETBURN over 7 years ago
I suspect what you receive is mass mailout leaflet type stuff (junk mail) and not really letters at all. The WHOLE population gets these at some point, not just those who have a service with a specific company.
Posted by GMAN99 over 7 years ago
But what is the difference? Both are trying to "steal" whether addressed directly or not. Yet again blinkered. Do you think for one second in ANY industry a customer that goes to the other side is simply lost and forgotten about. Everyone wants another customer whether they are "in the market" or "with another supplier" Talk about splitting hairs...
Posted by GMAN99 over 7 years ago
Its just another marketing ploy, its not illegal it just another way to get your ad in front of the customers faces. How many times do you see Adsa saying they have X goods this week cheaper than Tesco? Is that not an attempt to steal direct at a particular market share? More people will see that than this BT ad. Blimey wake up and smell the coffee, like I said this stuff is common practice this is just a new slant and angle...
Posted by CARPETBURN over 7 years ago
Obviously its futile trying to explain what targetted advertising actually is to you.
Posted by GMAN99 over 7 years ago
No its not, I understand the "targetting" bit I'm just saying broadcast or targetted what's the problem?
Posted by mishminx over 7 years ago
A mailshot equivalent would be Sky targeting those in DSO areas. Perhaps an insurance company doing postcode based targeting might also count. Neither would need to be individually addressed to a householder as the BT advert is not account specific.

The term 'targeted advertising' is utterly senseless anyway. Advertising targeted to a specific grouping is by no means new or unusual.
Posted by CARPETBURN over 7 years ago
quote"The term 'targeted advertising' is utterly senseless anyway. Advertising targeted to a specific grouping is by no means new or unusual."

Indeed its not new, then again the story is about the morals of what BT are doing, something you and GMAN99 cant grasp.
Posted by CARPETBURN over 7 years ago
I wonder how BT fans would feel if certain sites or even worse every internet site they visited had adverts for porn and similar all over them? You could argue that would be worse than BT targetting Virgin users, but in theory it would be the same, just in this case the porn industry targetting BT users.

As the story states... "But where do you draw the line?"
Posted by CARPETBURN over 7 years ago
If targetted advertising isnt a problem or an issue to you or GMAN99 and BT are doing nothing more, in theory that means you wont mind a huge dildo advert slap bang in the centre of the screen each time you visit thinkbroadband..... As GMAN99 would say "Whats the problem?"
Posted by carrot63 over 7 years ago
As much as anything I detest the glib language of persuasion used to sell us the idea in the first place - even this apparently neutral article uses it; "more relevant advertising". Is it really more relevant?

It's not just the shared computer issue that renders it worthless. I'll often spend days and a lot of site visits researching topics for reasons that have no purhase at the end of them, not even a chance buy, some for curiosity, some for work, some for a third party; computer specs, medical info, geographical info etc. ...con'td
Posted by carrot63 over 7 years ago
...
I don't know about anyone else, but I don't really want to be followed around by irritating travel ads for six months just because I've been collating figures on Nepalese rainfall patterns in the Monsoon, or job ads because I'm writing an article on the jobs market.

Marketers have been telling us for decades that they know all about us, and it's almost as untrue now as it was 30 years ago; the knowledge is superficial and transitory and their targetting generally very wide of the mark. Amazon have been throwing lists of stuff I'm supposed to like at me for 10 years and I'm ... con'td
Posted by carrot63 over 7 years ago
...
still yet to buy something it promotes - I was briefly interested in a book on Photoshop six months ago; they know I bought it, why assume I want 30 more? And Amazon know more than most about me; they know how much I generally spend with them, where I live, my age, gender, number of credit cards etc, yet they still miss by a mile.

As far as I'm concerned all of this crosses the line as soon as the information used or stored is personal at all. I'm on this site so they know I'm interested in Broadband - as is everyone else here, ads related to the site's topic are no ... con'td
Posted by carrot63 over 7 years ago
...
problem. If they use that info on another unrelated site, that is too far for me. When they start selling the info on and collating from other sources, I find it totally unacceptable.

When this doesn finally does become opt in, remaining opted out should mean that NO information at all is collected on you or used. None. Marketers currently have a very cavalier approach to this, but I think if they continue it will ultimately come back and bite them hard in the long run.
Posted by GMAN99 over 7 years ago
"Indeed its not new, then again the story is about the morals of what BT are doing, something you and GMAN99 cant grasp." - What are you on about CB. I put up valid points and you duck and swerve and start talking about sx toys!?

I get mailshots from Virgin Broadband and Sky all the time, they don't have my name on or state my current ISP but they ARE targetted, why? Because I'm not a customer and they know it as I'm not in their database so they are targetting me. How don't you understand that.
Posted by GMAN99 over 7 years ago
Also... aren't we confusing this with Phorm somewhat? It appears that all BT are doing is checking if the browsers IP is in the Virgin range and displaying a different advert more tailored to that customer (as per the article). Nothing to do with tracking cookies/phorm/internet viewing habits etc
Posted by CARPETBURN over 7 years ago
quote"I get mailshots from Virgin Broadband and Sky all the time, they don't have my name on or state my current ISP but they ARE targetted, why? Because I'm not a customer and they know it as I'm not in their database so they are targetting me. How don't you understand that."

No thats called mass mailout, people without broadband would even get them, like i said.....
Obviously its futile trying to explain what targetted advertising actually is to you.
Posted by CARPETBURN over 7 years ago
quote"Also... aren't we confusing this with Phorm somewhat? It appears that all BT are doing is checking if the browsers IP is in the Virgin range and displaying a different advert more tailored to that customer (as per the article). Nothing to do with tracking cookies/phorm/internet viewing habits etc"

Errr i said it isnt like phorm.
Posted by mishminx over 7 years ago
Adult content is a complete irrelevance, you are seeking to use the controversial so as to boost your failing argument. This approach might work better over at the daily mail. I hear they favour the fervently irrational. The BT advert uses public information to improve the efficacy of its advertising. This is standard industry practice.
Posted by Fixer109 over 7 years ago
DPI (deep Back Inspection) is as the base of this 'targeted advertising.

Come on people it's about time you looked at the big picture...even VPN are been targeted for advertising, every overseas ones!!!!! .

Is this not DPI???????
Posted by Fixer109 over 7 years ago
PS Deep black inspection should read Deep packet inspection should read 'Deppep Packet Inespections'

So your Human Right are being violated every day through the back door!!!!!!!!!!

Sorry
Posted by CARPETBURN over 7 years ago
quote"Adult content is a complete irrelevance"

Not at all if it were targetted. You have no issue with BT targetting Virgin users, you shouldnt have an issue with targetted porn ads all over your screen. You either dont mind targetted advertising or you do.
Posted by chrysalis over 7 years ago
GMAN99 you trying to say there is no difference between junk email and cold calling? incredible. One is extemely annoying and the other barely registers.
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