Are Ads Getting Too Personal?

Big Brother isn’t just watching you. He’s also trying to sell you something.

A 2009 survey conducted by the University of Pennsylvania and the University of California, Berkeley found that two-thirds of participants opposed the idea of targeted ads. And it’s no longer about you falling into a general category and being sent ads that are geared toward your group. Today, it’s about advertising that’s specifically chosen just for you — well, at least the portrait of you that your collective data and user patterns online indicate.

An article posted last week in the New York Times showed that people’s attitudes toward personalized ads don’t come from the ad content itself. It’s not the fact that people are seeing more that intelligently caters to their interests. The problem is how it makes them feel about the companies behind those ads — the ones that would spend thousands of dollars buying personal information about an audience in order to cater marketing to them. They don’t want to click on ads for or otherwise support companies who would stoop to that level in order to contact them and presume their interest. People largely oppose the idea of having their information used to define and target them — regardless if it makes their online experience more targeted to their interests.

The article focused on the fact that a whopping 86% of respondents in a study at the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania oppose political messages coming to them based on such factors as their voter registration, party affiliation, location and everyday interests. In an election year, campaigns are more than ever relying on “microtargeting” to show ads for or against candidates are based on who these marketers think you’ll elect. And that’s entirely derived from your demographics and the data you input over time on the Web. But 64% of those surveyed said they would directly rebel against any candidate who stumped their votes by buying prepackaged information about them.

Some Internet privacy watchdog groups are clamoring for more visible opt-out clauses and greater regulations regarding how websites collect and share data. On the other hand, some people interviewed said that they didn’t mind the hyper-personalized ads, as long as the means of gathering and storing data was transparent and ethical.

So what do you think? Are we entering an era of tailoring our advertising too much?

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