The Thin Line Between Stalking and Good Service

John Battelle, cofounder of the Web 2.0 Summit and founder of online ad provider Federated Media Publishing, is familiar with the possibilities of online banner ads. Even so, he was surprised when he opened his own blog this week and found himself squarely in the crosshairs of a pair of precisely targeted banner ads. A top ad pointed him to, specifically to a SIM card adapter he’d been shopping for a few days prior. To the right, an ad for Westin hotels offered a free night, spurred by his research for a recent vacation.

Some might find this eerie, but Battelle was pleased. Rather than having ads blasted at him based on a perceived demographic–or being subject to the blinking, eye-assaulting horrors of years past–his site held offers that were specifically and immediately relevant to him.

Battelle acknowledges the darker side of this, discussing the issue of trust with these often faceless third-party ad agencies in his post. He shows readers how to adjust their ad preferences for Amazon and data provider Akamai, offering this up as an example of how these agencies are trying to meet their subjects halfway. The question of whether the pleasure of being served can trump paranoia still reigns–even though ads like this are only an acknowledgement of what happens every time you get online. The comments provide a rousing discussion that ranges from the “privacy above all” attitude, to the lack of standards for online information gathering, to the fact that the blog hosting the chat isn’t behind a paywall. Battelle finds it ultimately benign, but most of us, who aren’t as familiar with the mechanics of being observed, may not have that luxury yet. Maybe the offer of a free hotel night would sweeten the deal.

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