Monday, March 30, 2009

Targeted Advertising While Wearing Blindfolds

I hope that everyone who reads this blog post on their Apple iPhone or other device truly enjoys it. Or perhaps you're a Luddite who doesn't even read things electronically, but gets someone to print out hardcopy for you, so that you can sit and read the paper while eating an apple or doing whatever it is that you do.

So anyways, I was busy earlier and couldn't really comment on one of Steven Hodson's posts - one in which, in his understated way, he entitled "This kind of contextual advertising makes me wanna puke."

In Hodson's example, he was reading a very sad post about "a young girl in Cincinnati who hung herself after a nude photo she sent her boyfriend ended up all over the school." The post itself is entitled "What, if anything, can be done to stop ‘sexting’?"

At the time that Hodson viewed the post, the advertising service was presenting an ad to find sexy gay singles.

At the time that I viewed the post, the advertising service was presenting an ad for term life insurance - which, when you think about it, isn't much better.

Now I'll be the first to admit that this is an extreme example, but we have to admit that "contextual" advertising is currently anything but. I could cite examples from the ads on my own blogs, but that would probably violate the terms of my agreement with my advertising service and they'd end up cutting me off, preventing me from ever being able to afford an Apple iPhone.

And yes, I am repeating a couple of key words at several places throughout this post. But what if this were a post that talked about how much someone hates a particular consumer product, and the advertising service ended up serving up ads for that very consumer product?

Perhaps the integration of personal information will improve contextual advertising in the future, but the move is controversial. (Incidentally, if you did not go to my blog to read this, I should let you know that my blog links to Google's statement on Advertising and Privacy.) On the one hand, such individual information will let advertisers know when you don't want to see gay sex ads or Apple iPhone ads or whatever. On the other hand, all of this information could go to a supercomputer in Brussels and be marked on your forehead or whatever.

So which way do we go? More targeted personal information, or less targeted personal identifying information? We can't really have both.
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