How To Fight Online Privacy Invasion

Posted by PSR_AXP

Coming from someone who makes a living selling online advertising, this might initially come across as hypocritical. However, in my defense, we do not accept advertising from any ad networks and these networks are the culprits when it comes to those banners that follow you after you visit a website.

You know the drill. After visiting the website of a business such as an airline, for days afterwards it seems wherever you surf, you keep seeing banners for that airline. Initially you probably think, isn’t that an amazing coincidence! But because you are not stupid you quickly connect the dots and ask, ‘what the hell’s going on here!!!’

What’s going on is your privacy is being invaded. The airline whose site you visited has dropped a cookie onto your computer and browser. That cookie acts like a spy logging every website you visit. The reason you see the airline’s banner is that they have purchased an ad campaign and they pay an ad network to make sure that their banner displays when you visit sites in the ad network.

Now if that hasn’t creeped you out, I’ve got a couple of horror stories that surely will.

A few days ago, I was exchanging emails using my work email, with a mate and we were discussing how stock markets can appear fine one minute, then the next they can go into freefall. All it takes is for some big players to hit the ‘sell’ key and the herd follows.

I referenced a situation while in Kenya on safari over 10 years ago when we were watching for a Wildebeest river crossing to happen. I tapped away explaining how thousands of these animals mull about grunting and groaning for hours or even days, then suddenly, one makes a break for the river and the stampede is on.

I swear on my life, I did not visit a safari website that day or any day in recent memory. Yet within an hour or two of hitting send on that email I began to see this banner on some websites that I browsed.

I leave it to you to connect the dots. Either I have witnessed a miracle and the marketing manager of this company is a mind reader. Or an ad network has somehow accessed my work email, noticed key words such as Kenya and safari, and is now following me with banners.

Feeling even more creeped out now? Feeling like someone is peeking over your shoulder reading everything you write? It gets worse.

I was having drinks with some friends recently and one of the women who is a veterinarian said that she was recently speaking to her nephew about bunions. Her nephew raised the question because he did not know what a bunion was, so she was describing the condition.

Neither she nor her teenaged nephew have bunions nor had either of them done any research online. This was limited to a short conversation.

Within a day both of them began seeing ad banners for clinics performing bunion removal surgery. She was very creeped out by this because she said the only way anyone could have known of the discussion was if they were monitoring her conversation. Of course, they both had mobile phones with them during this discussion.

Surely Apple or Samsung or other phone brands and networks would not be providing ad networks with access to our conversations, picking up on key words, then serving us with related banners? They would never invade our privacy like that – would they?

The Solution

If you have come to the same conclusion as I have, but are feeling powerless to stop these endless intrusions into your life, because you can’t exactly unplug from the Borg, I have a suggestion.

You can try to call the ad network operators and rant and scream and threaten them. And they will ignore you,  because they are farming you, just like one would farm a pig or cow, and generating hundreds of billions of dollars by doing so.
I recommend you take your rant elsewhere. When you see one of these banners following you around, click it, then look for the Contact Us page or better still the Advertise with Us page.
If you are feeling particularly venomous you might pick up the phone and see if you can track down the marketing manager and explain to that person how you do not appreciate his strategy that involves spying on you. Be sure to let that person know that you will never in a million years buy any of the products or services that they are spamming you with.
Alternatively, put all of this into an email with a subject line ‘Attention Marketing Director’. You might even consider cc’ing your mates just to let the marketing people know that you can play the viral marketing game too.
Something tells me that if enough people follow this advice that these marketing experts will get the message that their clever marketing is not so clever and is in fact damaging their brands.
And maybe, just maybe, they will no longer be willing to pay ad networks to spy on us, and we can surf the web, write an email, or have a conversation, without some company monitoring, recording and making money off of our every word.
The author, Paul Luciw, is the Founder and Managing Director of AsiaXPAT. 

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