Love them or hate them, remarketing adverts have become a great addition to the marketer’s toolkit. Google Remarketing is one of the best known but other providers, most notably Twitter, have also got on the act with their own remarketing variants.
If you’re not in “the trade”, you’ll recognise remarketing as the adverts that follow you around once you visit a website and they subsequently appear on apparently unrelated web pages. Their purpose is obvious: to make you return to the advertiser’s website, hopefully to take an action such as a registration or purchase that you didn’t complete on your first visit.
In the hands of a professional, they can be extremely effective, particularly in convincing you that you should really complete your abandoned checkout…used by ham-fisted marketers that believe you want a generic advert to follow you for several months, well, they’re just plain annoying. Now that is about to change for some consumers that visit websites deemed to be in a “sensitive” market.
In Canada recently, Google was found to be in violation of the country’s privacy laws by “using” sensitive health data in remarketing campaigns. This case was brought by an individual complaining to the relevant authority that his personal health history was being used to target him with sleep apnoea adverts.
As one would expect, Google attempted to shift the blame onto the advertiser by referring to its T&Cs that clearly state it’s up to each advertiser to determine the application of Google’s policies to any proposed remarketing and, in particular, to sensitive categories including “health or medical information”. [Note, the use of remarketing does not reveal personal details of any website visitor, just that they have visited a particular page.]
However, the Canadian judgment has led to Google agreeing to a number of concessions including an upgrade to its automated review systems by June 2014 that will help the giant catch more active remarketing campaigns that are potentially related to sensitive interest categories.
Though it’s not clear what the privacy implications are outside of Canada, if you believe your company is in a sensitive interest category, your remarketing campaigns are now under notice; best review them before Google or your country’s privacy authority does it for you.