@ MWC: Drawing lines between advertising, spam and negligence

BARCELONA, Spain — In most respects, the dream and even idea of walking by a shop and getting bombarded by mobile advertising is dead. That kind of advertising is spam, no matter how you slice it. The onus on the mobile advertising community nowadays is to alleviate consumers concerns, whether perceived or real, and deliver more compelling value for brands and customers.

Kicking off a panel on the topic at Mobile World Congress, Nancy Hill, president and CEO of American Association of Advertising Agencies (4As), pointed out that there are outlying companies in mobile that are collecting data without explicit permission and then asking for forgiveness after the fact. “We must now take the principles that we have established for online advertising and determine how to apply them to the mobile world,” she said. “The mobile user experience is vastly more complex.” Transparency is badly needed in this space and while there is near unanimous agreement on that point, there is a lot of work to be done before transparency becomes a reality. How that transparency is delivered to consumers, what control mechanisms are made available to them, reminders about what they’ve opted in to and the ability to delete data are all badly needed, but not available today. Furthermore, who is responsible? Developers, app store providers, operators, device manufacturers, regulators and numerous other organizations and companies in the mobile industry are in play. Indeed, while everyone on the panel played up their role and perspective as the “good guys,” they all declined to discuss the poor practices that are going on in the space and how that might threaten their goal of self regulations. “There’s information being gathered about the consumer on everything they’re doing on the mobile,” said Tanya Field, director of the mobile data group at Telefonica O2. And yet, very few consumers are aware of it. Hani Ramzi, business head of mobile advertising at Alcatel-Lucent, admitted that even he isn’t sure what information is being shared about his mobile usage. He and the other panelists agreed that there are universal rules of engagement that need to be addressed and adhered to by all parties. Because most consumers aren’t aware of what’s being shared about them, they don’t care, therefore customer control has to be paramount, said Ian Carrington, director of mobile advertising for Google Inc. in some European countries. “Companies have a responsibility to make them aware of what’s happening.” Mihir Shah, VP and GM of mobile at GroupOn, said: “Our approach to this has been to be very explicit in terms of data retention.” After requesting information to send users an e-mail or notification, GroupOn asks customers for information to help improve the offers that are sent to them. “The way our system works is, the more information you give us the better that offer’s going to be… There’s a direct correlation to value,” he added. Despite all these issues and concerns that might prove incredibly damaging for the state of mobile advertising down the road, there’s no denying the immense opportunity that lies ahead just the same. “If you look at time spent right now, it’s growing dramatically on mobile, but advertising dollars are yet to catch up,” Shah added. “I think local businesses have a tremendous opportunity to get value from mobile advertising,” he continued. “We are finally giving the local business the opportunity to get a share” of online commerce.

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