Friday, April 16, 2010

Opt-ins, opt-outs, and everything in between



Earlier this week, Google’s Senior Policy Counsel Nicklas Lundblad and Policy Manager Betsy Masiello published a paper called “Opt-in dystopias” in SCRIPTed, a Journal of Law, Technology & Society.

In their paper, Nicklas and Betsy explore how forcing opt-ins for online data collection could have unintended consequences that are not beneficial for user privacy. Partially-informed opt-ins that ask for excessive data, for example, could actually be more harmful for users’ privacy than better-designed, more intuitive and granular opt outs.

Nicklas and Betsy argue that focusing on the opt-in versus opt-out debate as a black-and-white matter creates false choices for users. Instead, they make the case that it’s better to have a structure in which online data collection is an ongoing negotiation between users and service providers. Although they don’t focus on advertising, their paper is timely given recent industry discussions about data collection in the online advertising world. To read more, you can download the entire paper here.

9 comments:

Grampa Joe said...

Or maybe just leave us alone? Is that kind of targeted advertising really necessary?

jomomma821 said...

yes, targeted advertising is necessary. why? because it allows for revenue generation which can then be used to develop and innovate more products. more innovation drives competition and this more innovation.

Mike said...

Advertising IS necessary. It's either that, or we pay big money for all the things we've gotten used to getting for free.

Eruonen said...

I'm not sure how I feel about this as I prefer opt-ins myself. As long as it's clear where and how to opt-out, I'm alright with it, though.

dom said...

Targeted advertising done correctly can be good for the advertiser, the party displaying the ad, and the consumer. For the consumer, they see ads for products and services that interest them. The ad presenters get to charge a higher fee, and the advertisers get their ads shown to their target market.

Jenn Sheridan said...

I've gotten to where I click on the "sponsored link" version of the site I've googled instead of the free version. Why? Because I was going there anyway, and they've already paid for it. I'd rather they got to count one of my clicks in the "win" column. Targeted advertising pays for our "free" internet. I choose to support it, instead of the alternative.

That said, I totally agree with the premise of the paper. It is an ongoing negotiation, not an initial state situation only. Harder to track, perhaps. But definitely more valuable.

Boris said...

You should check out this *great* paper on young adults and privacy:
http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1589864

Nathan said...

The presentation in the paper seemed a little unfair in presenting opt-out as being flexible and opt-in as being a single toggle:

Why can't opt-in be finely granular and evolve over time? If the site is great, perhaps they can attract users by not initially collecting much user data but later providing the chance to opt-in for various incremental data collection once they have the chance to demonstrate the value they provide?

jeffc1 said...

The authors need to revise their paper based on the goals and actual practices with online marketing and data collection done by Google and its affiliates. While it's true that the binary opt-in, opt-out debate is unfortunately narrow, it is used to address far-reaching data collection and targeting strategies implemented by Google and other online marketers. The authors, for example, should examine Google's use of neuromarketing for its YouTube advertising products; or the role of purposefully developed "immersive" multimedia tied to data collection by DoubleClick. They should analyze Google's advertising goals, including what it promises to the largest pharmaceutical and financial advertisers, for example. Or examine the growing role of merging offline and online data collection tied to a specific user cookie to be auctioned off that is now routinely used in online ad exchanges (Google owns one such exchange). They should also reflect on how Google--when rushing to catch up with Facebook in the social media marketing business--launched its Buzz product without a careful analysis of its impact on data collection. Google's researchers on privacy, in other words, would be more credible if they carefully analyzed how their own company uses--and plans to use--data. This issue deserves a robust debate--and we know the authors are sincere in their interest to make an important contribution. But they should also have been candid that Google is fighting off policy proposals from privacy advocates that would empower a user/citizen by allowing them to protect their privacy--including from opt-in. Opposition from Google and other online marketers to policies to protect the privacy of citizens and users is the real "cost" the public should not have to bear in what we hope will be a digital democratic global era.