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To advertisers, privacy just isn’t practical

Posted on | December 14, 2007 | No Comments

I was just reading an article from the Associated Press discussing the strategy of a new start-up advertising company. Now, advertisers want to put little black boxes in ISP data centers to analyze what we do on-line. ISP’s are going for it, because they get a share of the revenue generated by advertisement campaigns that utilize the harvested data. Customers can ‘opt out’ of being tracked, that’s going to go over like a fart in church with privacy advocates.

It seems to me, the more we use the Internet, the more we learn about ourselves. The more we learn about ourselves, the tighter we cling to the wish to keep our discoveries private. The more insular we become, the more we isolate ourselves and feed this interesting cycle.

Meanwhile, advertisers hope to catch up and make money hoping that you realize some MP3 player is a necessity. Your pesky cookie and Javascript blocking gets in the way of them feeding you what they think you want.

I look at advertisements in the same context that I look at any other kind of SPAM, ads are highly annoying unless of course they happen to be interesting. I would never entertain SPAM that promised me discount prices on Viagra without a prescription, but many people would. Buying the better erection on-line allows someone to feel that they’ve preserved their privacy.

I’d read unsolicited mail that appeared to lead me to cheap hobby stuff, such as robotics kits or computer parts. Even if the SPAM was not in English, I’d be likely to (safely) browse the links contained just to go look at the pictures. At no point would I buy anything, but seeing what they have available would be fun.

My advertisement and SPAM clicking habits are pretty much the same.

The sweet spot for advertisers is being able to show you things that you’d be interested in seeing and likely to purchase. They’ve figured out that the only way to do this is to track your movements on-line and keep a database that details what you view, how long you view it and what you buy. There are a couple billion web pages to view and a couple billion things to buy, this presents a very lucrative challenge to get the right product on the right page in front of the right person.

The funny thing is, the more we complain about and resist those efforts, the more money success is worth to whoever builds the better mouse trap. Given the education and background of the people working on this type of stuff, I’m befuddled while wondering, Why don’t they just bribe us?

Just like SPAM, I wonder why contextual advertising is so popular, I never click on that junk. Akin to SPAM, many people do, so it persists. Why not create an ad network where people can opt-in to intentionally download spy ware? (make no bones about it – the stuff is going to track and record your movements and report them).The difference is, you get paid for using it and earn a profit share from the advertisers who utilize it. It seems to me most ad programs just lack the honesty and sharing parts.

I really, really hope that advertisers just give up or that people become more comfortable with themselves. If the current trends continue advertisers will be hiring goon squads to follow people around and interview their neighbors.

I’ll blog a little later about why (I think) the notion of privacy on-line is silly, after all, your already hiding behind a computer screen ..

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