Conspiracy theories have always amused me immensely. In fact ghost and spook stories have been more often enjoyed for their amusement rather than to stoke up a bout of fearful hysteria. Not even horror or spy movies quite shocked us to the extend the producers had in mind. Although The Bourne Identity trilogy would be awarded a top place in the almost ran stakes.
It was an ongoing joke in the family while living in Durban to hunt for the mythical ever present Tokeloshes under our beds. We didn’t quite stoop to putting bricks under the bed legs as any self-respecting Tokeloshe believer would. And just to be politically correct, this quick trip down memory lane in no way wishes to undermine the rights of people to believe in Tokeloshes. It just wasn’t for us.
However, reviewing the comments left on my blog as well as those on the Mail & Guardians’ Thoughtleader site where I had submitted the article ‘Facebook – a secret harvest’ has made me re-evaluate my attitude towards conspiracy theories.
It seems that after all, according to some readers, I suffer from extreme forms of the disease. My pointing out the extent of harmful power that the company Facebook has over what it can do with the data of its members, made some readers accuse me of extreme paranoia.
Can you imagine what such readers, and their comments and observations are honoured in the blogosphere, will have to say about the following. I was reading in that lofty of all journals, The Wall Street one, an article on the online advertising industry and the title is most appropriately ‘ Watching What You See on the Web.’
It’s in part about CenturyTel Inc. The company is originally a phone service provider, but stiff competition has forced it to diversify into the online-advertising business. The technology the company is using to play in this market, is Big Brother to the enth degree. The system allows the company to observe and analyse the online activities of its internet customers, keeping tabs on every Web site they visit.
The technology has been developed by a Silicon Valley start-up called NebuAd Inc and is installed right into the phone company’s network. NebuAd uses the collected information in such a way as to be able to offer adverts totally targeted to individual consumers.
It’s called behavioral targeting. And it has been improved, if that is the correct word, to something called ” deep-packet inspection boxes”. This means a tracking device inside the Internet Provider’s network follows all the sites the consumer visits and with this information is able to deliver far more detailed information to potential advertisers.
The Internet Service Providers (ISPs) often also know the name, location, age and income range of the consumer which all adds value to the information supplied to advertisers. And we have such faith in our ISPs!
So why all this infringement on people’s privacy? I think it boils down to the fact that conventional advertising in newspapers, radio and TV is not delivering anymore. The consumer has lost interest and has moved on to find his or her entertainment and information on the internet.
Advertisers have yet to work out how to catch the consumer on the internet. Sure, a fair amount of online Adspend , about 58%, is finding its way into such areas as search, about 23% into display, approximately 19% to classifieds. But this is a fairly inexact science so far.
Just as an example, two companies I have done some work with tried Google Adwords. And it was really a huge waste of money with loads of expensive traffic coming through but with visitors showing no real interest in the product or service. Natural SEO has been far more effective to these companies.
In their bid to sell products, advertisers are making some very shady decisions to ensure their adspend gets a decent ROI. And what gets to me the most, besides of course the secret snooping into my online activities all the time, is the fact that the consumer has to opt out.
The onus is always on the little man to stop being harassed. Surely it should be more like, advertisers asking for permission to intrude. But of course this does not happen. Nobody would give them permission to allow such insidious hounding.
Whatever is happening out there in cyberspace at the moment, it is still fairly innocent. We have seen nothing yet as to the infringement on personal space and the aggressive in your face marketing and advertising that will be spewed at the internet user. It is so easy because it is so hidden. Users beware! Conspiracy theories? Tokeloshe under the bed? You bet.