Google Voyeur (beta)
Keeping it real by keeping tabs.
You are being watched. Right now, probably. I can't say "definitely" because this website, you may have noticed, is not supported by advertising and contains only one cookie--at that only if you have chosen a style other than the default one.

When you go to other websites, though--particularly any that serve you ads--you are going to be scrutinised. You're going to be put under a microscope for the delicious bits of information that perusing your browsing history and search habits.

The theoretical reason for this is that targeted advertising is useful. If you are the kind of person who searches exclusively for Hannah Montana and Bratz, you are unlikely to respond to ads for the newest Chevy pickup truck; similarly, if your last ten searches have all been for computer parts, you might be the ideal person to respond to a Newegg ad.

Google is able to make money entirely because of this. I know that if I wanted to advertise my Furry Survey, for instance, Google would be able to seed the ads in places where people would be likely to respond to them--other furry websites that have subscribed to Google's ads.

In the discussion surrounding Microsoft's proposed Yahoo! acquisition last year, one thing that emerged was Microsoft's apparently-superior behavioural tracking abilities, which they could then leverage with Yahoo!'s market share.

People are thinking about this.

Well, marketers anyway. But what about the rest of us (er. rest of you, I suppose)? The unambiguously-titled study "Americans Reject Targeted Advertising (And three activities that enable it)" suggests that people are increasingly uncomfortable with the way that information is gathered about them online. So?

So. What do we do with this?

The study itself makes effectively two points. Firstly, Americans aren't happy with the concept of targeted advertising, nor of allowing their personal information to be used in selling them things. Secondly, they don't have a damned clue how targeted advertising works, that it's legal, or the complications in opting out of it (hint: clearing your cookies increasingly does JS these days--many if not most advertisers use Flash, and you have to go directly to Adobe to get those deleted).

I'm of a mixed mind. I can appreciate the concerns about the invasion of privacy (and then God said "let there be Tor") and I can certainly understand valid concerns (if you use the same computer for work and home, or the same for personal and family use, you don't always want your searches for leather whips informing the ads you see).

On the other hand, though, I like free stuff, and free stuff is made possible by advertising. This could conceivably make targeted ads a necessary evil, and in fact when couched in terms of getting people free stuff they seem to be a bit more understanding. All the same, it is a bit worrisome to think of what advertisers know about you.

Even anonymously, though I do admit to unending curiosity as to how much you could learn about someone from their search habits. And this all now makes me wonder. All the fuss about new smartphones supporting Flash. Is this a genuine response to customer demands, or just because Flash makes it so much easier--and so much less transparent--to track people's mobile browsing?

8.10.2009 - 1h46
Comrade Alex
8.10.2009 - 2h01

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