The New York Times has a piece today on the FTC hearings over online advertising and behavioral targeting practices. This sounds lot like 1995 all over again, when the revelation that cookies were getting slipped onto browser’s hard drives set the loony-tune elements loose with cries of invasion and privacy rights being trampled on.
â€œWhen youâ€™re surfing the Internet, you never know who is peering over your shoulder or how many marketers are watching,â€ Mr. Leibowitz said.
Does any remember the stink over CallerID? When privacy nuts argued that transmitting a caller’s phone number was a violation of the caller’s privacy? I remember fighting with Bill Baldwin at Forbes over that issue, when in the throes of reporting a story in the late 80s on electronic privacy. My argument was simple: I have every right to ask a person knocking on my door to identify themselves before I open that door. Indeed, think of CallerID as the little fish-eye peephole for the telephone.
But I digress, to the matter at hand: Does Behavioral Targeting impinge on privacy?
The scary story cited by the Times has all the drama and handwringing one needs to make behavioral targeting seem appropriately Orwellian and sinister (if we called it Relevant Advertising it might have better PR) A young woman, discussing a recently deceased grandmother in email, sees Google AdSense ads for healthcare. Whoa. The Google-borg did some keyword analysis, the algorithm dipped into the AdSense pool, and lo and behold, the 26-year old was freaked out to see health care ads and who knows what else: maybe ads for coffins, adult diapers, nursing homes and Dr. Kevorkian.
People. Listen up. Machine matched tagging and ad serving is not the same as the National Security Agency listening to your phone calls and emails for mentions of “al qaeda” and “tax evasion tips.” Look, forget E Pluribus Unum, the new motto is One Nation, Under Surveillance ….With Strip Searches and Pat-Downs For All
As Scott “Scooter” McNealy put it nearly a decade ago, “You have zero privacy. Get over it.”
Well, tell that to an identity theft victim
Web browsing and targeted ads are not going to put your privacy at risk. Getting phished or signing over your 401K to that lawyer in Lagos will be a problem. But web ads? We’re done with Gator (right?), intrusion ads are dead, pop-ups are crushed by browsers … so what’s left?