I have always considered the privacy concerned people in online or mobile space as privacy paranoids. I felt glad when a co-worker used the same expression. I understand there are some issues that could potentially be exploited (one ex-co-worker said that depending upon your vehicle driving statistics, insurance prices can be adjusted – wait, not can, he said ‘are being’. While this sounds stretched, it surely sounds exciting and science fiction kind). And then there is this usual privacy invasion concern in social networks that I keep coming across. I completely understand and sympathize with some issues this brings up, and have heard from friends their personal stories, but I continue to think that on a broad level, these fears are over-rated (yes, technology and social network has enabled intruders; life is never as before etc , but ..).

I may just get a flak for saying the above, and potentially being stalked on Facebook and my house robbed if I post my chek-ins on Twitter.

But internet advertising is an interesting field. In short how targeting advertising works in theory is like this: through cookies your interests are understood and even your demographics is derived. And if such demographics is in the target profile for the companies, their ads are shown. Google’s ad-preferences page can be seen here. In addition there is contextual advertising which mostly depends on the content of the web page. (A slight variant is the search advertising).

Obviously, there are more possibilities of displaying incorrect ads rather than the right ones. Also there are chances of blocking the ads, or blocking the cookies and hence avoiding the ads completely. And finally, lot of people tune out the ads. (I have done just one transaction based on the ads so far). Despite all this, internet advertising is huge business, and am thankful for that.

The post is partly in reply to a good article I came across.

PS: Hulu has a good mechanism of asking if the ad is relevant to me or not..but sadly the ad-inventory ran out quickly because I pretty much marked everything as irrelevant.
PPS: It would be interesting to run these experiments ourselves..


AOL and MSN thought I might like a Nissan Versa. Yahoo agreed, and, wondering if I might be suffering from Crohn’s disease, asked if I wanted some Humira. Maybe I could wash it down with some of the Sunkist being pushed up by YouTube. Amazon thought I needed either a new Discover or an American Express. And there was a general feeling trailing me around the internet that I might have use for pills that will slim me down, shakes that will bulk me up and stocks that cost half a handful of pennies. If the internet advertising business understands me correctly, then I am a sugary-drink-swilling, spendthrift sucker with a yen for new wheels and a body-image problem or two.
Happily, it doesn’t.
After two days of paying close attention to what I was being sold as I wandered around the internet, it’s my conclusion that, despite the loud cries of digital-privacy advocates, online advertisers don’t know nearly as much about us as we might be led to believe. Or, if they do, they have a funny way of showing it.
As the immersion-journalism schtick goes, spending two days examining every online ad that crossed my path may not sound particularly taxing. But have you ever done it? Unless you’re afflicted by some rare and particularly insidious version of Asperger’s, all but the most garish, interruptive online ads probably fly right by you. Odds are that you don’t click on them or notice them or share them or talk about them around the water cooler. For most of us, internet advertising is more an idea or a concept or a budget to be modeled than an experience. But there’s a big gulf between how online advertising is talked about and how it’s experienced.
Read the press around this multibillion-dollar industry and you’re led to believe that every marketer knows enough about your demographic profile and your behavior to anticipate your desire and serve up a marketing communication so hyper-relevant it transcends its status as an ad and becomes something like information. And how you feel about that probably depends on how you view privacy. Is personal information sacrosanct or is it something that can be given up in dribs and drabs to fund all the free activity going on online and to get pitches from brands less likely to waste your time and attention?
It may indeed be the case that we’re slouching toward some “Minority Report”-like reality, but after 48 hours spent looking hard at online ads, stopping to track every impression I made for an advertiser and understand what relation, if any, it might bear to my personal information, I felt anything but paranoid. Quite the contrary — the experience was underwhelming. I was served up course after course of ads that felt generally irrelevant and untargeted and not only did nothing to stoke consumer demand but possibly smothered it. For all the highly-touted targeted technologies, I didn’t feel the crosshairs on me any more than when I watch an average prime-time TV commercial break, and at least that’s trying to tell stories, forge relationships and spark demand. The general sense of the experience was a less bittersweet version of a common post-high-school realization: “They really didn’t know me, did they?”
I catalogued about 200 impressions, from small banner ads, to pre-roll video spots, to rich-media ads, to sponsored links, to search ads, to social ads. By my count, no more than 10% of them were relevant — and I use the term loosely. I counted as relevant anything that didn’t have me pegged in some clearly incorrect way and, of course, search ads. For example: Even though I’m not particularly in the market for a cellphone, car or credit card, I counted those as relevant. It’s not unreasonable to think that the right deal might get me in a buying mood. Going into the irrelevant column were ads useful to someone with a particular horrifying medical condition that I don’t have or to a woman.
In looking at the relevant ads, I didn’t have the feeling that any of the come-ons were based on any particular knowledge of me. Regardless of what media you’re talking about, companies that market cellphones, credit cards and cars make a ton of ads. Spend enough time in any medium, targeted or not, and you’ll likely hit on some of them.