Trendspotting: Follow the Reader

By , Monday, April 23, 2012, at 9:01 am.

The concept of targeted advertising has taken a bit of a PR punch in the gut just lately. First, there was the story of the teenaged Target customer who was sent pregnancy-related offers before she’d told her family she was expecting. Target has admitted to tasking a statistician with making educated guesses about its shoppers—but some consumers feel that this instance is an example of taking it a bit too far. And now Google is weathering accusations that it betrayed users’ search queries in order to better target ads. But don’t expect Google ads to get any less personal; a new, simplified privacy policy means that its ads will be tailored even more precisely to users’ interests. Privacy critics warn that this private data might be shared or leaked, while others say we should expect to forfeit at least some of our private data in exchange for access to free content. When asked, 68 percent of American adults said they’re “not OK” with targeted ads because they don’t like having their online behavior tracked or analyzed. Older, wealthier people are especially uncomfortable with data tracking. The best way to protect yourself and the details you’d like kept private? Experts say there are lots of ways to avoid being tracked, but the only way to protect your privacy altogether is to stay offline. Luckily for companies with something to sell and the marketers tasked to sell them, that’s a greater price than most consumers are willing to pay.

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