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Personalised advertising: it’s a personal choice

01 May 2011

You’re surfing the net, browsing Facebook, or reading emails and an ad perfectly tailored to your interests and needs happens to catch your eye. We’ve all experienced it, and by now it is no secret that personalised advertising is rampant online. Nearly every website we visit collects data from our surfing, searching, and shopping behaviour and uses it to bombard us with ads.Something that may come as a surprise, however, is that the majority of people online actually appreciate this customized advertising. A personalisation survey conducted by ChoiceStream indicates that a whopping 78% of consumers enjoy and are interested in receiving personalised content – and I have to admit that I am among that 78%.Although advertising is often viewed as a nuisance – a necessary evil if you will – there is no avoiding the countless ads we encounter when going about our regular online activities. So my thoughts are, if we are going to be faced with advertising on the web, why not make it relevant?As with any hot topic, not everyone shares this opinion. Many people believe that the collection of personal information for consumer purposes (or at all) is an invasion of privacy. In 2009, a coalition of consumer and privacy advocacy organisations in the United States requested a legislation protecting consumer privacy in response to personal data collection by websites. They were quoted as stating, "Tracking people’s every move online is an invasion of privacy. Online behavioural tracking is even more distressing when consumers aren’t aware who is tracking them, that it’s happening, or how the information will be used.”This may be true, but given the nature of today’s society, I think this sort of tracking behaviour should be expected and is simply a sacrifice we make in order to enjoy the Internet and the opportunities it provides. Realistically, it doesn’t need to be seen as a sacrifice at all but instead can be viewed as a helpful bonus. When it comes to privacy online, the important things such as photographs, relationships, age, occupation, and so on can, for the most part, be easily protected, as such information has to be willingly provided by the users themselves. The information collected by websites for advertising purposes is usually nothing more than one’s taste in music, fashion, or other personal interests.Rather than taking radical steps to stop personalised advertising, I think this energy could be better directed towards educating web surfers about internet usage and privacy practices. Many people do not even realise that several browsers today offer private browsing, which stops websites from tracking their online behaviour. Users should also be well informed about what information they are providing – knowingly or unknowingly – and how it will be used. They can then decide for themselves if a particular website is worth their time and their privacy.

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