Monday, November 28, 2005

Is personalized advertising evil?

In a long post about unethical behavior at software firms, Alex Bosworth has an interesting rant against personalized advertising:
Until privacy advocates raised a ruckus, Google engineers had big plans for mining a user's email trove to offer them precisely targeted advertisements ...

A real life equivalent to Google's personalized advertising dream would be a store where an anonymous greeter already knew not only your name but everything about you including the contents of your most intimate communications, and attempted to direct you to things they thought you might buy.

This is not only extremely off-putting and an abuse of trust to many, it's also potentially disruptive to the decisions a person might normally take.
On the one hand, personalized advertising could open the door to a new forms of invasive annoyances. I am reminded of the scene in Minority Report where sales avatars on screens call out to you by name as you walk past. Or the disturbing vision of the future in the Golden Age series where flying banner advertisements swarm through the air, something so obnoxious that everyone uses cybernetic implants that alter their perception of the world and filter out the ads.

On the other hand, personalization may offer the key to relevance. We are all bombarded by advertising in our daily lives. Junk mail, ads in magazines, it is all ineffective mass market noise pummeling us with things we don't want. But, companies with a helpful product need some way for interested people to find out about it. What I would like is a way for the ads to be limited to only interested people. Don't waste my time, tell me about something that actually might interest me. I'd like the advertising to be useful.

I think that being obnoxious always fails in the long run. Spam e-mail is now filtered. Pop up ads are blocked. Obnoxious personalized advertising would be no different. People hate obnoxious.

But being relevant and useful always pays off. Personalization can help people find and discover relevant information they wouldn't have found on their own. Personalized advertising can be useful. And people like useful.


Alex Bosworth said...

I think the key is that users should be in control of how personalized advertisements are, based on how much information they reveal publicly.

There is a difference between our public and private sources of information, and while it's an invasion of privacy to advertise based on information we think of as secret, it's great to receive advertisements based on information we share publicly.

If someone at a convention came up to me and said, "hey Alex, I read your blog, you'd really be interested in this Ajax project I'm working on.", I would be pleased as punch. If that same person said, "I read in your email to your friend that you were thinking of going to California, why not come to my place while you are down here." I would be freaked out and run away.

Maarten said...

Generic advertising isn't all that interesting and is easy to ignore. Well targeted advertising would be far more distracting. That's not a benefit in my mind when I'm trying to get work done.

Riyaz said...

Personalization in advertising can be useful in a way that a consumer decides in what way he wants products and brands to reach him. Users will be able to clearly define what they get bugged with and what they like. I think thru personalized approach services and brands will be able to exactly identity curve in trends and market movements. It will be definitely useful as advertisements thrown to the consumer can be filtered out by him because of the filters he can predefine.