Breaking Canadian law is certainly not your intention when you create and post online ads, but your company may unknowingly run afoul of Canada’s privacy law. A medical device company and Google got into hot legal trouble for promoting behavioural ads, and your company may be at risk, too.
What is Behavioural Advertising?
Behavioural advertising is the use of ads that target and track a consumer’s personal behaviour. Imagine that you sell well-insulated boots for trudging through Canadian winters. You decide to create a targeted advertising campaign to promote boots to people with a serious foot condition. You set up a Google Adwords campaign and expect to get lots of visitors with that condition to click on those ads. The hope is to increase sales for those boots.
Is this ethical?
It sure seems like it, but what you don’t know is that some consumers are embarrassed by their medical condition and become alarmed when seeing your ad following them to websites having nothing to do with feet or boots. These consumers feel their privacy is being violated. And, they’re right.
Canadian Privacy vs. the Big G
Protecting consumer privacy is the job of the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada (OPC). This government office has determined that any targeted online ad that uses targeting based on a consumer’s personal information breaches privacy law. Google uses sophisticated technology steeped in online behavioural advertising, which tracks personal interests to deliver highly-targeted ads to website visitors. Since Adwords ads are distributed by the Adsense program, it’s not difficult to see how companies can get swept up in this legal quagmire.
A single complaint by a consumer with a medical condition caused a huge crackdown on Google by the OPC. These complaints are taken very seriously, and Google had to comply with the law. Small businesses using this type of advertising may want to put protections in place to guard against legal risk.
Follow OPC Guidelines
Fortunately, the OPC issued guidelines for companies to follow in relation to behavioural ads. Companies must do the following:
- Clearly inform consumers visiting your website about your advertising practices
- Make consumers aware of your use of behavioural advertising and reveal various parties involved in the advertising
- Give consumers an easy and timely way of opting out of behavioural advertising
- Make sure the opt out is immediately implemented
- Destroy or de-identify quickly any personal information collected due to behavioural advertising
Behavioural advertising may be too big of a risk to take for your small business. Yet targeted advertising works, and you’d like to keep it in your marketing toolbox. The good news is there are alternative ways to target and attract customers.
Create relevant blog articles that discuss various aspects of the products you offer, as well as, helpful advice and tips. You might want to share behind-the-scenes details to give consumers a glimpse into your company. Remember to include keywords in your content.
Social Media Posts
Dive into social media with gusto and post to your company’s social pages frequently. Social media allows you to engage directly with people who like what you offer.
Find other companies offering complementary products that fit your target market and form strategic alliances. Expand your market share by cross-promoting to their customers and vice versa.
Google and other online advertising companies often use behavioural advertising practises that may conflict with Canadian privacy laws. Take steps to ensure you aren’t inadvertently breaching consumer privacy, and give consumers a way to opt out of such ads. Consider alternative options for targeting consumers.