Let’s Be Friends: AdFriends

[qi:017] The dueling advertising announcements out of Facebook and MySpace have once again put privacy concerns into the spotlight. Technology commentator Esther Dyson suggests that instead of legislative relief such as a Do Not Track list, forward-thinking businesses should cooperate with their customers and potential customers in social network-style harmony. In other words: Let’s be friends — AdFriends (my term, not hers).
In a speech she gave last week at the FTC’s conference on behavioral advertising and reprised at Defrag yesterday, Dyson shared her proposal for a market-based (rather than legislative) solution. She thinks that Internet users, having been trained by services like LinkedIn and Facebook to publish, monitor, and maintain information about themselves online, are ready to do the same with the customer profiles that businesses generate about them. And she hopes that competitive pressures will drive companies to provide people with visibility into and control over those profiles.
Give Us Personalized Privacy Disclosures
Dyson says marketers are already equipped to do that:

Over the years, marketers have become better and better at collecting data on individuals, recognizing them, classifying them and sending them personalized (you’re a segment) and even personal messages (you are member 582930, with 56,784 miles). So why can’t they use those same talents and show them personal disclosure statements?

These personal disclosure statements would include what a company knows about your online activities, your personal profile data, what sources they used to find out things about you, and so forth.
At Defrag, Dyson dismissed the idea of the Do Not Track list, saying, “I’m not sure what Do Not Track will do. When people eliminate all cookies, it gets annoying, and they find they have to be selective.” She likewise questioned whether commercial third parties like ProQuo could rescue consumers, suggesting that this should be handled directly between people and the companies with which they do business.
Do Not Track + AdFriends
Companies that offer personalized privacy disclosure and control could find themselves becoming our AdFriends, friends that can see our profiles because we trust them. The vast majority of businesses, however, wouldn’t be our friends, so perhaps even if Dyson’s vision became real, we would still need a Do Not Track list. That way we can opt out of everything, then add in select marketers individually.
Facebook’s announcement yesterday looks a little like Dyson’s suggestion, except that Facebook plays the role of a third-party data broker (though one that people have a direct relationship with). You can manage the profile that Facebook stores for you. You get notified and can opt out of shared marketing via the Beacon system. You can tell Facebook what businesses you want to hear from by saying you’re a fan.
So, is Facebook a cat about to cough up a privacy hairball? Or the harbinger of a newly friendly relationship between marketers and web users? It’s probably too soon to tell. But to the extent that Facebook and other such efforts get people paying attention to how their social data is used for commercial purposes, it could be a step forward.
Update: Saul Hansell on Facebook Everywhere, ad network?

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