Saturday 23 October 2010

Behavioural advertising chaff

I understand that, during their get together in Jerusalem next week, some of the more passionate members of the data protection fraternity plan to let others know just how extremely unhappy they are about all this behavioural advertising stuff they experience each time they log onto their chosen web sites. Apparently, there needs to be more laws and restrictions, blah blah blah, to protect the digital innocents. And the not so digital innocents.

If people really are so unhappy about what they evidently consider to be an unfairly intrusive and awfully invasive technology, can I suggest a simple sway of confusing the behavioural advertisers, and ensuring that rather than receiving adverts that may be slightly interesting, they can instead have their screens cluttered up with material about which they have no interest whatsoever.

It’s a simple technique, and one which takes just a few minutes to practice.

All you have to do, once you have finished surfing the web for the sites you want to see, just spend a few minutes each day surfing random sites that you would never usually access. That’s going to confuse the hell out of the clever programmers who develop complex algorithms whish try to tailor adverts about stuff they think you are actually interested in. If you can spend, say, just 10 minutes a day surfing stuff you are not interested in, then the adverts that will be invariably served are likely to be less relevant, so you can rest assured that there is no central “big brother” data base that knows what you are really interested in.

Just as fighter jets emit lots of metallic chaff to put the heat-seeking missiles off their scent, we too can emit sufficient electronic chaff to put the behavioural advertisers off the scent. If we wanted to, that is. Hey, perhaps some cunning oik will develop an application for us to use, which will run in the background of our usual browsing activity, to cloak what we are really doing with a veneer of respectability.

Will this concept catch on?

Let’s wait and see.

We can judge its success by the sort of adverts that will be served whenever we visit our favourite websites. The less relevant these adverts are, then perhaps the more effective is the chaff. But then again, if the adverts aren’t that effective, then the webmasters will have to think of other ways of monetising their sites. Like creating paywalls – which are likely to deter us from visiting our favourite sites.

Who pays to access the timesonline these days when you can get all you need from the (free) on-line versions of the Daily Telegraph, Guardian and Daily Mail?

So is behavioural advertising really that bad – especially if it helps to keep serving us all with the stuff we want for free? If we are to believe the more passionate members of the data protection fraternity, then perhaps it is a bad thing. And perhaps we ought to put our hands in our pockets to protect our privacy.

Oh yeah - and just how many of us are going to want to do that?