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    New York Times: Ads Follow Web Users, and Get More Personal

    The New York Times has a story on targeted behavioral advertising and tracking of online users. Marketers are increasingly gathering users personal data — online and offline — and linking this information in order to attempt to influence consumer behavior.

    The technology that makes the connection is nothing new — it is a tiny piece of code called a cookie that is placed on a hard drive. But the information it holds is. And it is all done invisibly.

    “Now, you’re traveling the Internet with a cookie that indicates you’re this type of consumer: age group X, income level, urban versus rural, presence of children in the household,” said Trey Barrett, a product leader at Acxiom, one of the companies offering this linking to marketers. […]

    But consumer advocates say such unseen tracking is troubling. On the old Internet, nobody knew you were a dog. On the new targeted Internet, they now know what kind of dog you are, your favorite leash color, the last time you had fleas and the date you were neutered. […]

    Consumers can avoid cookie-based tracking by deleting cookies from their computers or setting their browsers not to accept cookies. But few do, and privacy advocates say it is easy for companies to add cookies without users noticing.

    What does all of this mean for your everyday life? “Not only will people see customized advertising, they will see different versions of Web sites from other consumers and even receive different discount offers while shopping — all based on information from their offline history.”

    U.S. lawmakers have called for new rules to protect Web site users’ privacy, and the online behavioral advertising industry has agreed to new, voluntary regulations — that still fall short in privacy protections. You can learn more about the privacy problems with targeted behavioral advertising in the archives.

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