A couple of weeks ago, I was looking at flights and hotels for a trip to Reykjavik this January. One of the websites that I visited was hotels.com, following a link from the Tripadvisor website.
This morning, I read an article on the Guardian website about the recent overhaul of the Independent website. At the foot of that article was the following advert:
Is it simply a coincidence that the advert the ad server served up (perhaps based on my Google search history) happened to be for hotels in Reykjavik from one of the websites that I visited when booking that trip?
Or does behavioural advertising now go deeper than I thought, and was this served up by hotels.com based upon my recent searches on the hotels.com website?
How does the system work?
The Guardian is a member of an online behavioural advertising system provided by a company called Audience Science. Audience Science appears to have many partners – from media/news sites to retailers (although hotels.com doesn’t appear to be on the list of advertisers, it is mentioned in a recent press release), each of whom share information on your use of their websites to allow the others to provide targeted advertising.
What I hadn’t previously considered, and find slightly disturbing about this is that the (very wide-ranging) list of partners in Audience Science’s network will continue to expand. However, once you’ve opted in to the system and accepted the cookie, you are unlikely to be aware of subsequent changes (or really have much idea about what information is being shared and with whom). This means that you could be using one website unaware that your browsing habits could subsequently influence advertisements served up on another site. There is no “Audience Science member” flag.
For example, if you have visited the website of an online clothes shop you may start seeing ads from that same shopping site displaying special offers or showing you the products that you were browsing. This is allows companies to advertise to website visitors who leave their website without making a purchase.
What do you think? Is behavioural advertising A Bad Thing? Do you think it impedes on your privacy? Is it ok provided that you understand how it is being used?
PS I got the Hotel Thingholt much cheaper on Expedia.
PPS Luckily, the trip wasn’t intended to be a surprise.
PPPS The Internet Advertising Bureau allows you to centrally control your behavioural advertising preferences for services provided by its members here.
On October 31, 2011