Microtargeting: Great for Obama and Romney, but Good for Consumers?

The Challenge: In the Presidential race, both candidates are sending out highly personalized e-mails to voters, using microtargeting to address individual interests. But what privacy issues does this raise for consumers?

SoLoMoIn a recent study, the Interactive Advertising Bureau stated that the use of microtargeting allows marketers to finally "reach out to prospective [customers] with messaging that addresses each person's specific interests and causes."

With the integration of digital political advertising into political campaigns, it's evident that increasingly accurate microtargeting of messages is being integrated into all levels of the marketing spectrum. Microtargeting makes use of online and offline data to find appropriate targets and generate models to further refine the message. But the sensitive data that makes microtargeting effective is also a cause for alarm among consumer advocates.

As seen with Facebook in our previous article, data is gathered through trackers on websites that consumers visit, and then routed through the databases of the trackers' respective companies. The inherent danger is that marketers or third-party trackers might use voter data for purposes the public never thought of, such as preventing someone from getting a job based on their past political affiliations.

And while microtargeting provides an unprecedented level of personalization for marketers, many consumers do not realize the implications that microtargeting has on their individual privacy. Christopher Calabrese of the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) says "Individual[s]…may not be aware that the message they are getting is based on information that has been gleaned about their activities around the Web and is precisely targeted to them."

Key Takeaways for Marketers
1. Create a Reciprocity of Value Equation, (as mentioned in our previous article).
As we've stated previously, consumers are willing to opt-in to share increasingly detailed personal preference information in exchange for marketer's promises to deliver relevant information and offers. If marketers want consumer's trust, they must show good faith by proving them with the choice to opt-in.
2. Establish safeguards to protect personal information.
Marketers must earn the trust that comes with the information they collect about consumers. Clearly communicate which tracking companies appear on your sites, and ensure that each company understands the privacy policies regarding the data that they gather.
3. Consumers should have the ability to opt-out.
As mentioned in our previous article on Google Remarketing, "what some will regard as highly relevant ads, others will see as invasions of their privacy." That's why those marketers using microtargeting as part of their campaigns should take care to be proactive about making the opt-out process easy to perform and understand.