Why Behavioral Targeting is Scary

Behavioral targeting shouldn't be scary to consumers -- because every major behavioral targeting system I've ever seen (outside of spyware) goes to great lengths to protect user privacy. It's all completely anonymous!

But behavioral targeting is incredibly scary to publishers and advertisers and any other company who wants use anonymous user data to effectively target advertising. Because even some very smart people simply don't take the time to understand what's being discussed. I'm sure Sir Berners-Lee is one of the great minds of the digital world -- but either he has never bothered to read up on behavioral targeting, or he doesn't know the meaning of the word 'anonymous,' or he simply doesn't trust his ISP.

It's probably the latter: he doesn't trust his ISP. That's fair; everyone can decide for themselves who to trust. But it's also odd, because he presumably already trusts Google to store all his searches -- including personally identifiable data -- for 18 months. Does Berners-Lee really trust Google more with data about exactly who he is and and what he searched for (which is not just the 'worst-case scenario' he discusses in the BBC story, but the actual fact of his relationship with Google today) more than he trusts BT or Virgin Media with anonymous data? (After all, who stores more sensitive data about you: your search engine, or your ISP? And who has a worse history of leaking users' behavioral profiles: search engines, or ISPs?)

This is why the ISPs who partnered with Phorm just weeks ago have already gone weak in the knees. It seems it's simply not possible to have a fair, informed discussion of behavioral targeting -- not in the face of scary stories from the media, and over-reaching, under-informed comments from the type of digerati who should know better.