Got the Online Spooks?

While browsing online, we have all become increasingly aware and accustomed to the personalized advertisements that line the pages of the different websites we visit. If you have announced that you are a bride-to-be, you may be bombarded with ads for engagement rings and wedding dresses. If you are a sports fan, you shouldn’t be surprised to find ads for your favorite team’s merchandise or links to buy tickets to the big game.

This advertising practice known as “personalized remarketing” or “retargeting” is far from being new, however it is becoming more pervasive and some may say invasive with an increased attention to what exactly consumers are perusing online.

As an online consumer, you may have already noticed the specific attention to detail that is now being presented in your online advertisements. Retailers like Art.com, eBags.com and the Discovery Channel are utilizing this increased personalization in their advertising on sites such as Facebook and Myspace. While consumers browse at products online, they are now being followed by these exact products that they have viewed on previous websites, leaving many consumers with the feeling that their privacy is being invaded.

In the New York Times article, authors Miguel Helft and Tanzina Vega write that this ad technique is raising the threat of industry regulation. “Retargeting has helped turn on a light bulb for consumers,” said Jeff Chester, a privacy advocate and executive director of the Washington-based Center for Digital Democracy. “It illustrates that there is a commercial surveillance system in place online that is sweeping in scope and raises privacy and civil liberties issues, too.”

Companies such as Zappos provide a link under their advertisements where the personalized ads and the technology behind them are explained. However, many advertising and media experts believe that sharing this information will only increase the fears of those who believe they are being tracked online or worry that other parties that use the computer will see what items they have browsed.

I am personally on the list of those who feel a little spooked out by the recent increase in personalization. As an online consumer, I do not want to feel stalked or followed by a specific product that I viewed on a website. The pressure that is presented from the advertisements is similar to the pushy salesperson that will not accept no for an answer, leaving many consumers with the feeling that they are being bullied into buying. With so many consumers feeling increasingly uncomfortable, regulations for the technology may have to become mandatory in order to secure our privacy.

What do you think of the increased personalization in online advertisements? Do you feel your right to privacy is being invaded or do you think it is a clever way for companies to target their consumers?

Let us know what you think!

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