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BLOG: Ad industry to Web: Trust us, we're lying

Robert X. Cringely | Oct. 12, 2012
You say you don't want dozens of obscure companies recording every website you visit. What are you -- a commie?

My question: What are they going to do with those billions in ad dollars -- spend them instead on billboards and bus benches?

The industry will also argue, and rightly so, that the data collected today is very bare bones and stored anonymously. In theory, at least, they won't be able to attach a name, email address, or income bracket to your Web browsing history. That's typically true -- until researchers invariably discover it isn't, in some cases at least.

But what about tomorrow, when the data collection gets richer and the temptation to use use that data for lead generation becomes overwhelming? Knowing that I clicked on a car ad is worth a few pennies to an advertiser or publisher today. Knowing my name, email address, or phone number would be worth considerably more to the automotive dealers in my area.

In some cases, a tracking site wouldn't need my identity at all. Say I use my browser to read articles about lung cancer. What's to stop a data collector from dropping a "high-risk customer" cookie on my hard drive? Then when I try to sign up on for health insurance on the Web, I get denied -- no reason given. As more transactions occur entirely in the cloud, this kind of scenario could become quite common.

Who says they're going to keep my data safe and anonymous and used only to deliver "interesting" ads? Yes, that's right: the online ad industry.

Given the industry's long history of prevarication, obfuscation, and outright deception, why would anyone in their right mind trust these people?

A PR wonk who likes to brag about fooling the media (and who shall go unnamed here) recently published a book called "Trust Me, I'm Lying." That sums up my feelings about the online advertising industry as well as anything.


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