Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Ad-targeting system monitors your interests with ISP's help

The whole Facebook controvery over the past few weeks has highlighted the larger issue of internet privacy, and the role of advertiser targeting techniques.

A new product has been created to improve on Web sites' practice of dropping tiny tracking files known as cookies on visitors' computers. When those cookies indicate enough about a Web surfer's interests, related ads can be made to appear.

So, what are some of the privacy pro's and con's with this new technology? As you may have guessed, from a privacy perspective, it again comes down to the all important difference between "opt-in" or "opt-out". And to no ones surprise, industry wants to keep it as it is..."opt-out".

The Mercury News Silicon Valley reports:

...the fact that you visited a site doesn't say as much about your interests as knowing what you did there and afterward. Did you read several articles or quit halfway through one? Did you leave the site to research the topic further on a search engine?

To glean those deeper insights, NebuAd installs equipment inside the facilities of Internet service providers (ISPs), which see everything their customers do online. NebuAd's boxes examine many of the sites people visit, what they do there and what they hunt for on search engines.


Aspects of NebuAd's technique are already in play. For example, besides cookies, many online retailers deploy "clickstream analysis" tools that monitor what customers do on a given site - what they browse, what they read, which items they put in their shopping carts but fail to buy. As a much wider-ranging eye in the sky, NebuAd could pique more worries about privacy.

...Pam Dixon, director of the World Privacy Forum, said NebuAd should instead use an opt-in mechanism - automatically excluding anyone who doesn't sign up. She said even if a marketing profile is anonymous, someone might be able to tie it to an individual Web user, if its details were as richly detailed as NebuAd indicates.

"For this particular business model ... it's got to be opt-in, because people's expectation of privacy is that this isn't happening," Dixon said. The degree to which this privacy equation has been managed will likely be key for NebuAd.

Click here to read the article in its entirety.

No comments: