Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Big Brother: No Big Deal

Click. Click... Click. That's the sound of your mouse taking you from page to page. *Silence.* That's the sound, or lack thereof, of companies loading tracking information onto your computer. According to the Wall Street Journal article The Web's New Gold Mine: Your Secrets, "the nation's 50 top websites on average installed 64 pieces of tracking technology onto the computers of visitors, usually with no warning." The purpose behind this tracking technology? Advertising. These "beacons" track the websites you visit so that companies can target their advertisements directly at you, the consumer. Some see this as an invasion of privacy, Big Brother at it again. I say bring it on.

That companies use this technology to provide tailor made advertisements to individual users is a wonderful business strategy for them, and a time saving convenience to us. In that same WSJ article, the author states, "The new technologies are transforming the Internet economy. Advertisers once primarily bought ads on specific Web pages—a car ad on a car site. Now, advertisers are paying a premium to follow people around the Internet, wherever they go, with highly specific marketing messages." This is perfect for a consumer. Lets say I'm someone researching information on a new sport I'm interested in taking up, snowboarding. I Google "snowboarding" and instantly I have dozens of websites with information on snowboarding: how-to's and sizing charts from and, videos from Youtube, etc. Now that I know everything I need to know about getting started, it's time to start shopping. I soon realize I don't need to look far, because websites I'm visiting now suddenly have ads that take me to different online snowboard stores. How convenient!

Clearly, this is a dramatization of how it really works, but the premise is the same. The information we search for in the digital age is fair game to advertisers, and I have no issues with that fact as long as the intent is not malicious. This statement in the blog prompt, "the internet services you use for "free" are largely financed through advertising, and that you probably prefer ads that are most relevant to you" is dead on. If you want to look up the definition of a word, you either have to take the time to go to the store and buy a dictionary, or you could go online and look it up. For this information to be free, websites that provide the definition must make their money through online advertising. In my opinion, companies collecting my data is a fair trade for the information that I want for free, here and now.


  1. A persuasive and well-written post. I wonder, though - what if, say, the government subpoenaed contact information for any user who was searching "hot button" keywords, such as about terrorism, or Islam, or suicide bombings? Even if they were for a school research project? Part of the danger is that this information could, however unlikely, be used for purposes outside of advertising.

  2. I for one am a fan of the directed marketing, and as you point out, it is actually very useful. Using this website history for other purposes can be sketchy, but directed advertising is very useful.

  3. Interesting article. I enjoyed reading it. I agree with lots of points you have made about the tracking advertising being a useful resource to us. Online advertising is very common nowadays and for it to help benefit us as much as possible by tracking is all by means fair game content.