Posted April 8, 2010 1:53 pm by with 2 comments

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Last month, Google announced a new “remarketing” feature, allowing advertisers to later target people who’d visited their sites or YouTube channels. Retargeting like this is a popular marketing topic: an survey (via) found that slightly under 70% of marketers had never used it, but 46.3% of marketers thought retargeting was the “most underutilized marketing strategy.”

With Google just getting in on the market, obviously the time is ripe for established companies to make bigger moves as well. However, as with all behaviorally targeted marketing, protecting consumer privacy is a big concern—especially for consumer privacy watchdogs. The Center for Digital Democracy has filed with the FTC asking for a probe into behavioral targeting by Google, Yahoo and Microsoft, among others. This is just the most recent volley in that battle.

Interestingly, a French company is also choosing now to enter the American retargeting marketing. Criteo is moving its HQ to Palo Alto (from Paris)—but they’re bringing with them the European standard of privacy, which thus far has proven to be higher than that of the US. CEO JB Rudelle says:

We have been working in countries like Germany, which is probably the most demanding country in the world when it comes to privacy. We put a direct opt-out link on all retargeting display banners in Europe, and hope to bring this feature into the U.S. market.

(I do have to say, though, that the CDD’s director might be taking this a bit far when he says “Online marketers have made what was science fiction in ‘Minority Report’ now a reality.” Maybe it’s been a while since he’s seen that movie, but last I checked we’re not talking about iris-scanning identifying and tracking technology—or even technology that requires or uses your name (necessarily). There’s a debate over whether an IP address constitute personally identifiable information in the first place—though tracking consumers from site to site without their consent does feel like it’s crossing a line.)

I don’t know if directly opt-out links would be enough to assuage some of the privacy critics.

What do you think? Can retargeting and privacy peacefully coexist?

  • I had just learned about retargeting recently when a client was using I agree that it is an untapped opportunity but it can be a little creepy to feel stalked. I think whichever service needs to use good metrics to determine how many views it takes for someone to take an action and abandon attempts after that number to avoid really annoying and disturbing the customer. I recently wrote a post about Google vs Retargeter and I’m interested in your views on these types of services.

  • I can certainly understand the concern that some people have about privacy, but if retargeting is done right (see article about how to retarget without being creepy, then it can actually be beneficial to consumers. Think about it – we’re always going to be exposed to pop ups and banner ads if we’re going to use the web, right? Wouldn’t it be nice to have those ads and promotions be for products or services we’re actually interested in? Less surfing to find what we want. As long as tools like frequency caps are used to prevent saturation, retargeting is going to be a good thing in the long run.