'Do Not Track' Option Raises New Challenge For Marketing Tactics

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ROSEVILLE, Mich. — Members are using Microsoft privacy tools to block credit unions from tracking them at the virtual branch and across the web, causing some e-commerce executives to rethink website and advertising strategy.

"Browser privacy tools will likely cause us to seriously reconsider whether we continue to do search advertising," said Lauren Vance, VP-strategic development and product delivery at the $241-million Christian Financial CU (CFCU) here. "And the ability to understand the effectiveness of our website and the content on it could be jeopardized."

Microsoft is rejuvenating an old privacy tool in Internet Explorer called InPrivate Filtering, which allows people to block all third-party analysis and advertising platforms as they browse the web. Mozilla and Google are considering similar features.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is behind Microsoft's move-the Commission recently encouraged browser developers to incorporate "Do Not Track" features that allow consumers to control online behavioral tracking and advertising.

CFCU stands to lose a lot if search advertising is compromised, Vance said. Credit Union Journal reported in June that Google and Facebook ads are delivering bigger hits and better returns for CFCU than direct mail advertisements.

Web privacy tools could prevent CFCU from collecting individual user data at the virtual branch, such as geo-location and time spent on a web page, Vance continued. "Our analytics tools track these data to help us understand the successes and failures of our site. We're able to identify the opportunity for new products; improve our site functionality; and even combat fraud."

But Public Service CU said it's not a big deal if people block third-party tracking, according to Angelo Fanaras, VP-I.T. at the $125-million CU in Romulus, Mich. "The only tracking we have on our website is general location, where they clicked from, where they clicked to, browser information and so on. That's not much to identify an actual member for marketing."

Search advertising may lose luster when members activate Web privacy features, Vance suggested. "If users opt out of tracking, they will never see ads targeting specific key words and geographies. So if we want to reach as many users as possible, we would need to keep our ads broad. To me, this means more costly, less efficient Internet advertising."

Meriwest CU of San Jose, Calif., said the new browser tools and FTC recommendations won't impact marketing efforts. "The majority of target marketing is done within our secure online banking environment, and is based on transactional and other member activity conducted," explained Tony Cortez, VP-marketing at the $1.1-billion CU. Meriwest relies primarily on "first-party" tracking tools, which can't be controlled by Microsoft's browser privacy settings.

Virginia CU in Richmond, Va., limits itself to "first-party" home banking tracking tools, as well, such as the $2-billion CU's real-time, online marketing tool (CU Journal, Jan. 17), according to Christopher Saneda, CIO, so it shouldn't be affected, either.

Microsoft's InPrivate Filtering privacy tool may not amount to much, according to some, because users have to remember to activate the feature each time they start a new Web session. People can also use a "white-list" to select which sites they allow to track their activity.

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