who watches the watchers?

Before I say anything else, let me say that I believe that advertising on the Internet enables a lot of good things. Since websites can make money from advertising, people get lots of great stuff for free on the web.  I like free news and reference, free photo and video sharing, free games and social networking – I understand that it’s all free because advertisers pay the websites instead of me.

But some advertising can get pretty creepy.  I don’t like the feeling that I’m being watched all the time, without any control over my own information.  Sometimes it seems like the advertisers follow me everywhere I go.  Do you ever get that creepy feeling?  When you visit a website about sports, how come the next website you’re on knows that you like sports?

Advertising that is based on watching your Internet activity is called “behaviorally targeted” advertising.  Most people do not like the idea of behavioral ads, and even the ad industry admits these ads can be creepy.  The Federal Trade Commission has taken a strong interest in this topic, spurred on by various consumer groups.  Aware of the concerns, the ad industry is trying to stay ahead of government regulation, with voluntary principles and awareness campaigns.  But none of this will stop the growth in behavioral ads:  this year, online advertisers will spend over $1 billion on “behaviorally targeted” advertising, and that amount is expected to double in the next four years

The government, the ad industry, and even consumer groups offer incomplete solutions.  The focus that they have is on “transparency” and “choice” – but what will that mean for you?  The best possible outcome of all their work is that hundreds of ad networks make it very clear that they are watching you.  And then you get to go to 400 different websites, read thousands of words, and make hundreds of choices.  That’s not easy – you probably can’t take the time to watch who’s watching you.

Bynamite is taking a different approach to the problem of creepy advertising – we think it should be easy for you to be in control.  We accept that advertising can lead to good stuff, even when it involves tracking consumer behavior.  But we insist that consumers should be in control of their own information – you should always be able to see, change and delete what advertisers know about you.  We’ll be launching a preview of our service in the coming weeks, so stay tuned . . .

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