Wednesday, February 13, 2013

I’ve got a bunch of companies following me online. Is that a good thing?

I’m being followed. I don’t see them all the time, but I know they’re out there. Sometimes I catch them out of the corner of my eye and try not to look their way. Other times they just blatantly jump out in front of me and make themselves known.

I’m talking about banner ads. Because more and more lately I can’t help but notice that some of the things I search for or look at on the Web are obviously noticing me—and then following me to the other sites I visit.

I had banner ads for the movie Les Miserables following me around the Web for about two weeks. A site called Christian Singles was on my tail for a month with ads popping up every time I went to the NY Times Web site. And lately, ads for the Fairmont hotel chain seem to be on every Web page I visit.

Sometimes my connection to the banners is obvious. I did recently look up some rates on the Fairmont hotel site. And I had checked out the reviews at the Le Miz movie site. But Christian Singles? I’m happily married and have never identified myself as Christian—but figure this may be due to a spirituality blog site I write for and visit now and then.

Are they following you too? Then you probably noticed that at least some of these banner ads have a small icon titled “Ad Choices” in the lower right hand corner. When you click on this icon, you’re brought to a Google page with the following message:

The AdChoices symbol appears on web pages and ads to let you know when information about your interests or demographics may have been collected or used to show you ads – what’s known as interest-based advertising.

In other words, I’m being cookied and followed. And while I’m not totally against this attempt to put “interest-based” ads in front of me, it does have the feeling of a car salesman following me off the lot after I’ve taken a peek at the new models. Enough already, if I’m really interested I’ll come back.

It has also struck me that the technology is pretty dumb. Already a Verizon FiOS TV customer, I visited their Web site to find out how to connect my DVD player to my TV set top box—and then had banner ads for the FiOS Triple Play, at a super low price, following me around for weeks.

But like it or not, I supposed this new technology is here to say. At least until Google figures out a way to read my e-mails and offer up advertising related to the content of my personal messages. Oh wait a second, they already do that.