Profiling Plus Privacy
Companies from the personalization, tracking and ad-serving industry, including some fierce competitors, announced today they would cooperate to standardize electronic profiling of individuals. The Customer Profile Exchange (CPEX) initiative brings together a growing roster that now stands at more than 20 companies, including analysis vendors Andromedia and net.Genesis, database makers Oracle and Seybold Systems and ad-serving giant DoubleClick.
CPEX is working to establish an open standard for the way companies gather and store the data gleaned from users’ behavior online and off. The goal is a “singular customer image” that can be understood and used by the various tracking, targeting and analysis applications now employed by online marketers. CPEX hopes to release the first version of a spec by June.
Standardizing data among rivals won’t hurt competition, because the raw data in and of itself doesn’t give anyone a competitive advantage, said Brad Husick, co-marketing chair for CPEX. “The way in which each company interprets the profile is a competitive advantage,” added Husick, who is vice president for customer standards and evangelism for personalization company Vignette, Austin, Texas.
Data conforming to the planned standard, which will be XML-based, can be used for customer support, sales and order tracking, marketing campaign service, and analysis. It also can be used with so-called enterprise relationship management tools, or ERMs.
CPEX members stress the advantages to Web users. “For customers, it’s all about getting better service and reducing the time it takes to get what you need,” Husick said. “If [companies have] this integrated view of them, customers [will] benefit.”
One real benefit for consumers may be the privacy controls that will be integral to the CPEX standard. As data is gathered, consumers will be urged to set limits on how their data can be used.
One analyst called the move to address the privacy issue a smart one. “Their emphasis on providing customer control [of privacy] is a good approach,” said Donovan Gow, senior analyst for the Aberdeen Group, Boston. “I think [CPEX] is largely vendor-driven. They’ve got to be able to share customer data, and there’s some fear of government regulation if they don’t [deal with privacy] themselves.”
The consortium believes “it’s unlikely there will be one universal privacy standard that’s legal, valid and accepted in all jurisdictions,” said Matt Cutler, co-founder and chief e-business intelligence officer for net.Genesis, Cambridge, Mass., and co-marketing chair for CPEX. “By having a privacy-enabled interchange format, any one of these privacy standards will be able to plug in to the interface.”
CPEX membership is open to anyone, with low fees of $7,500 to be part of a working group, or $1,000 for advisory member status. The results of the work will be an open standard available to any company.
If customer-controlled privacy is part of the CPEX package, it will remain to be seen whether the standard can take hold, said the Aberdeen Group’s Gow. “CPEX will be giving them control but hoping customers will say, ‘Go ahead and use my info as you see fit.’ That’s a big challenge.” n
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