In response to increasingly aggressive ads in free mobile apps, mobile security firm Lookout on Monday released guidelines to protect consumer privacy and security and promote responsibility among advertisers.
The guidelines offer mobile ad providers information about how to target advertising, while at the same time adhering to principles of privacy and user choice.
Because the mobile ecosystem is evolving so quickly, it’s important to develop standards for mobile advertising, according to Lookout. Its recommendations to app developers and mobile advertisers include providing clear privacy policies, conspicuous opt-in and opt-out features, attribution to the host application, and secure transport of data.
It also argues for a move away from using personally identifiable information and permanent device identifiers.
Aggressive advertising is nothing new. It’s just that now it’s invading the mobile space.
“Since the beginning of time, there have been malicious marketers,” Mark Lehmann, CEO of TodaCell, a mobile advertising firm, told the E-Commerce Times. “On the Internet, there has been spamware and malware. That’s going to happen with mobile — it’s just a matter of time.”
Responsible advertising is actually better advertising in the view of legitimate mobile app marketers. Users are turned off by aggressive ads that access their personal information without their knowledge, send them unwanted push notifications, or otherwise invade their privacy or compromise their security and choice.
“It’s all about the consumer and not about the advertiser,” Michael Oiknine, CEO of mobile engagement firm Apsalar, told the E-Commerce Times. “As long as you take the consumer’s point of view in advertising, the advertiser will fare better.”
Apsalar gathers data and targets consumers through apps, but it does so with a respect for consmer privacy and security, he said.
“We use mobile analytics to understand users, within a very strong privacy framework,” said Oiknine. “We believe in targeted advertising. If you have to receive an ad, you want to receive an ad to something that you’ve shown a need for. If it has to be intrusive, at least it can be useful.”
In particular, Apsalar avoids the minefield of gathering, tracking or using personally identifiable information.
“Targeting should only be based on non-PII,” maintained Oiknine.
Targeting might be more effective, in fact, when it’s based on demographics and not on personal data.
“The best way to target an ad is to target by the publisher,” argued Lehmann. “If you’re looking to reach affluent businesspeople, you’d target Bloomberg or The Wall Street Journal. If you’re looking to target young adults, you’d target People. You target by publisher, and with the publisher comes a certain demographic.”
How to measure the effectiveness of any given mobile app ad campaign depends on the goals of the advertiser.
A branding campaign might strive to get an ad in front of as many consumers as possible, said Lehmann, whereas a sales campaign would measure its success by how many products are sold via the ads.
“Some are effective, and some aren’t,” he noted. “If the advertiser is smart and goes through an optimization process and fine-tunes [the campaign], it’s more effective.”
So far, the mobile advertising industry is self-regulating.
“I hope that as an industry we can come together and show enough maturity and self-discipline to come up with guidelines and enforce those guidelines,” noted Oiknine.
The fact is, the mobile app advertising industry is still just in its infancy, and its best practices will evolve along with consumer expectations.
“We’re really just at the start of apps,” said Lehmann. “As devices become more sophisticated, apps will become much more sophisticated. Their capabilities and speed will increase, and the app adoption rate will increase. Looking at the broad mobile landscape, we’re really just at the beginning.”
Take a good look at the advertisers and mobile ad networks that honor these guidelines. I use Airpush, and they built their new SDK in with these Lookout guidelines in mind. I think all players have to be held accountable and held to high standards for their actions.