I recently came across an article that discussed the possibility for the major players in targeted ads services to be able to display an ad with your name on it. It’s actually a pretty interesting matter because it ties in very closely to our privacy. The actual subject was all the information that gets gathered on each one of us while we are online. At first you think that the ads you see are only contextual, meaning that they match the content you are looking at on a certain page. But it turns out that the big players out there are capable, and have becoming increasingly good at spotting the patterns in your online behavior, personal tastes and interests. They can track all these things because they put the systems in place. They give you opportunities, which you can’t resist, to give them all the information they need to track you at all times.
Rest assured, if you are banking or doing other personal matters, they do not “see” all that in detail, but they do know you are somewhere on a financial service and probably also can match some kind of personal data to it to be closer to identifying you. Naturally, there are privacy policies and rules, usually even put in place by these companies, to prevent them from actually using that information directly. AOL and Yahoo!, for example, wouldn’t really want to do that just yet, but they say they have the technology to do it or something very close. Google say that they might be able to do it, but since their model is based on what I described above, (targeted ads based on page content) they aren’t aiming at that just yet. However, they do not have a policy against it.
Microsoft say that they have all the information to be able to do it, but they use a special algorithm to determine what ads get served based on demographics, content, etc.. and once that algorithm has gone through, they have no way of tracking your personal information back to you. The caveat here is that Microsoft does not consider your nickname or your first name as “personal information” ;-)
There have been companies who have already asked for this kind of advertising and that is why I don’t think I’ll be too surprised on the day I see my name or nickname appear on the ads I see on every page I visit. The debate on privacy is always a sticky one, and I’m sure we’re going to here about this some more in the future.