Monday, March 10, 2008

Every search you make, every click you take, I'll be watching you

The thought of Sting stalking anyone is scary enough, but scarier still is the enormous amount of information Web companies are collecting about their users' consumer preferences in order to market to them more effectively, according to an article in today's New York Times. By collecting oodles of information about our search queries in Google and our purchases on Amazon, these companies are then able to charge astronomical sums for advertising space on their webpages.

Unsurprisingly, industry figures don't see any potential pitfalls in such practices. “What is targeting in the long term?” said Michael Galgon, Microsoft’s chief advertising strategist. “You’re getting content about things and messaging about things that are spot-on to who you are.” I suppose if you think that who we are is defined solely by the things that we buy, you'd have to concede Mr. Galgon's point, but luckily not everyone takes that dismal view. According to the article, 85 percent of respondents to a recent poll said that companies should not be able to track online behavior to show people ads. I hope that as public awareness of such practices spreads, opposition will grow. If not, however, we might find ourselves in a situation like this before long.

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