Another privacy row threatens mobile advertising

Critics and proponents of mobile advertising agree on one thing: it's going to be big.

US privacy advocates last week urged the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to investigate mobile advertising. The Center for Digital Democracy and the US Public Interest Research Group (USPIRG) complained that marketers "have refined a wide range of sophisticated practices that allow them to track, analyze, and target" phone users.

"Right before the commission's eyes, many of the same consumer data collection, profiling, and behavioral targeting techniques that raise concern in the more "˜traditional' online world have been purposefully brought into the mobile marketplace," said CDD Executive Director Jeff Chester.

But Mike Wehrs, the newly-appointed head of the Mobile Marketing Association (MMA), says the complaint is "the extreme case".

"The data that would allow for a high degree of individual targeting is not available," he said. "Carriers don't have an aggregated system of every service you subscribe to. Facebook also doesn't."

Although the CDD has told the FTC it has not addressed the threats to privacy and consumer welfare - in particular to children, adolescents, and multicultural communities - Wehrs says the "escalation procedures are in place."

"If there is continued egregious violation of principles, there could be suspension of membership," he said.

But he agrees that mobile marketing is still in its early phases. It accounts for less than 10% of total advertising spend in the US.

"Advertisers recognize the unique benefits; it's a personal device," he said. "It offers location, customization, immediacy, and forwarding."

But it lacks an "ecosystem" and the standard industry metrics that would allow advertisers to launch a global campaign. The industry was examining different metrics such as brand impression, the number of responses to a particular offer, or calls to action, he said.

"You have to track it all the way through from the original presentation of the offer to actual conversion or purchase."

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