The Web’s New Gold Mine: Personalizing Your Online Experience

Past weekend, WSJ published a story titled Web’s New Gold Mine: Your Secrets on online tracking and advertising (behavioral targeting). It appears to me that the author of this article is either confused between malware and cookies is or she is just doing what she is supposed to do to sell the story i.e. using words that instill fear in people.

The article projects any tracking, business and advertisers do to serve relevant ads or personalize the users experience on web, as malicious. Businesses have been trying to understand consumer preferences and then make personalized recommendations ever since the humans existed. We do it offline all the time. So how is online tracking for the same purpose malicious?

My dad used to run his clothing store in India, way before internet existed. He used to gather all the information (in his brain) about consumers browsing and purchase behavior to make personalized recommendation to existing customers and new customers. He used all that information to determine what products, colors, sizes, quantities etc. to stock. He knew almost all of the existing customers by their name and what they preferred. Was that spying? Nope. Customer loved it.

If someone can understand me and provide me exactly what I want then why won’t I like it? If they miss the mark well then I have a choice of not paying attention to them.

Do you know that Visa, MasterCard and American express have more information about you than any cookie or advertising company has? Your super market collects your information and tries to guess about what you might buy next. Have you ever got a coupon from an automated coupon dispenser when you check out from your local super market? Well do you know that it is based on your current and past purchases, you zip code etc? Do you ever worry about that or happily walk away with the coupon? Why is the fuss about online tracking for the same purpose? Don’t you love personalized recommendations from Netflix or Amazon?

In my opinion advertisers/publishers/network should invest in consumer education and make tracking and targeting more transparent and articles like this should help with the education instead of branding all tracking as bad.

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