Trying to Beat Regulators to Privacy Punch

Friday is Data Privacy Day and at least one company, job search giant, is using the occasion to announce additional privacy controls for the 68 million monthly job seekers reached annually by behaviorally targeted ads through its Career Ad Network.

Monster is one of many Internet companies that’s recently been feeling the heat coming from probes by the Federal Trade Commission, the Commerce Department and Congress, and is taking privacy policy into its own hands before the regulators do.

“We want to make sure our users know what we’re doing with their information and that we maintain their trust. In light of what is going on, we don’t want consumers to be concerned about what we’re doing,” said Mary Cavanaugh, manager and counsel of global privacy for Monster. “We think we’re ahead of the game.”

All the recruitment ads Monster places for its company clients will now contain a hyperlink that allows consumers to either opt-out of behavioral targeted ads or provide more information for better results. Before this new just-in-time hyperlink notification, Monster provided an opt-out control through its privacy policy.

“It’s additional transparency,” said Tom Chevalier, product manager for Monster. “We’re trying to show job seekers relevant job opportunities and we can be very transparent about that. Trust in the job search environment is fundamental.”

Monster isn’t worried about a lot of job seekers opting out of targeted advertising. In research the company conducted last August, 83 percent of survey respondents said they would rather see targeted ads and 48 percent would give more information to improve the targeting. Only 15 percent said they’d choose to opt-out entirely.

Those numbers conflict with data from independent research. In a 2009 survey conducted by a group of professors from the University of Pennsylvania and University of California, Berkley, 66 percent of respondents said they don’t want marketers to tailor ads to their interests. When the respondents were told how marketers gather the data, that number rose to more than 73 percent.

Of course, what Monster actually does could explain the difference in the data—job seekers are likely to want to see relevant recruitment ads.

Moreover, what people say they’ll do is very different from what they actually do. The opt-out rate for ads associated with the self-regulatory program currently being implemented by the Digital Advertising Alliance is very low. The icon click-through rate is 0.005 percent and the opt-out rate is 0.0001 percent, reported Evidon, which powers the program. About one in every 700,000 people opt out.