Friday, May 11, 2007

Online Advertising: Good or Bad?

What do you think? Is online marketing and advertising becoming an invasion of your privacy?

A new commentary piece on Wired discusses the level of information that's being collected. The author, Jennifer Granick, cites examples that argue that although the "Internet" may not know your name or social security number, marketers have enough information to identify you.

"Chester found plenty to worry about. He pointed to ad companies' own marketing materials as evidence of the depth and breadth of the information collected. Websites today track clicks, browsing and user attention span, and amass information like wish lists, preferences and purchases. Advertising brokers create a detailed profile of site visitors and use it to serve ads targeted to appeal to an individual's particular tastes."

"...anonymous or pseudonymous profiles can be readily connected to real world identity. While advertisers may not collect PII, they do collect IP addresses, which can be traced to an individual most of the time. Also, Carnegie Mellon professor Latanya Sweeney has demonstrated that one can identify 87 percent of the U.S. population from ZIP code, birth date and gender alone. Privacy protections based on absence of PII isn't very robust."

So, does it bother you that somewhere, some computer and internet marketer know all about you? They know what you browse and what you buy. What you listen to, what you watch, and what you read.

As you probably already know from reading my blog, I'm fairly comfortable revealing my offline identity online. When I was younger, I protected myself more for safety reasons, but now I'm pretty well out there. More than just online marketers, my blog readers have a sense of what I'm reading and buying.

I think of online tracking a lot like those keychain things you have at the grocery store. Have you ever signed up for one of these things at an Albertson's? The checker scans your keychain when you're buying groceries. From the customer perspective, it allows you to get a discount on your food. From the store, that keychain provides invaluable information about their customers, including you. It helps them to know what you're buying, when, and where. They can more accurately keep their shelves stocked for the day that you're looking for west key lime juice from Nellie & Joe's.

I look at this as a convienence. I want the store to provide the food that I want to buy. And, online, I want advertisements to be targeted toward what I want. I want e-mails to be customized to ME! I look at data mining that's used in advertising to help me to get what I'm looking for in front of me that much faster.

I will say however, that I do think there is clear and definite value to be considered when it comes to protecting that sensitive data. Why? Because I don't invite strangers into my home to learn about me. And, I want to be able to trust the web to use my information in a way that will help, not hurt, me.

What do you think?

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