An article on CNet today focuses on, what I think, is the next logical step in online advertising.
They report that the New York Times is planning to implement a program that would track what content users access and deliver ads to them, throughout the entire site, that matches their reading habits.
With Wide Angle Targeting, NYTimes.com is putting people into contextual categories by monitoring how many times they visit certain sections of the site, including health and sports. If a visitor reads five or more health-related stories per month, for example, then he or she would be a prime target for a diet ad while visiting the entertainment front page.
I think this is a great idea. The promise, and part of what differentiates the Internet as a medium from print or online, is the ability to get to know your audience better by instant tracking of usage.
Newspapers have to rely on post-hoc readership surveys to determine what their readers like, but I’ve always held, and past research has shown, that readers lie.
Readers know they’re being studied and will often tell researchers what they think they want to hear.
With the Internet, and for the New York Times this doesn’t have to, and isn’t, the case.
There have been privacy concerns about this sort of tracking before. I’ve always contended that as long as this tracking information isn’t sold or given to other marketers in individual terms like “Joe often reads book reviews, especially if the headline has the word ‘sex’ in it,” then there’s no harm
However, the Times doesn’t seem to agree with me.
For now, the company is only delivering aggregate information to advertisers, being sure not to reveal personal data. But in the future, it is looking at being able to give the marketer more personal or demographic information.
This is the sort of privacy violation that makes users wary of giving any information to sites. That means less targeted, and less profitable ads, which could lead to more paid access.
That’s bad for users, advertisers and publications.
There’s nothing wrong with the Times offering extremely targeted ads.
Everything’s wrong with giving out data on user’s surfing habits.
I can only hope they wisen up.