Recently I began to notice an advertisment which continually appeared on my browser. The ad was a display ad which filled up the right side of the screen.
At first, I didn’t see it primarily because like most internet users, I have trained myself to ignore most of the ads on the browsers. I simply ignore them as advertising “noise”: they simply are not to be trusted. Yet after several weeks, this one ad caught my attention: it was from a DUI law firm / attorney from Colorado. No matter what I did on the internet, this ad continued to appear.
Normally, I would have just dismissed this ad as more “noise”. But something bothered me about this ad. It kept consistently appearing on my browser windown. I began to wonder why would a Colorado DUI attorney be advertising to me in Kentucky? How had I been targeted?
So I did the unthinkable, I clicked on the ad. The ad sent me to this DUI attorney’s website where I found myself reading about how he would be the best attorney to respresent me in my DUI defense in Colorado! Since I had never been charged nor arrested for a DUI, and since I had never been to Colorado, I wanted to know why I had been targeted.
I contacted the attorney’s office. I learned that he had paid an advertising company to “target” internet users suspected of being arrested for DUI’s and present his ad to them. I explained that I had not been arrested for a DUI nor had I been to Colorado. I learned that the ad targeted people suspected of being arrested for DUI’s.
So why had I been targeted. Well, as a Kentucky DUI lawyer, I frequently surf the internet searching for new and different defenses to use, including research, news articles and more. The search terms I typed in are tracked along with my computer’s IP address and analyzed by intenet advertisers. The advertisers must have determined that since I searched for specific DUI terms that I must have been arrested for a DUI. So they began displaying ads from DUI defense attorney’s. Four things bother me about this practice: first, that they somehow figured out a way to send the ad to a specific computer – mine; second, that my anonymous searches could be linked to my identity; third, that they believed I had been charged with a DUI; and forth, that this inaccurate information based on assumptions could be used against me by advertisers in the future (in the courts we call this circumstantial evidence).
According one Wall Street Journal article, some company’s actually identifying internet users by name and email address. The WSJ reported on an example where a Republican candicate hired RapLeaf, Inc. – an online tracking company – to identify conservatives interested in Republican politics, the Bible, and who contribute to polictical causes. Using the list of names generated, they then pepered them with online advertisements. The article further stated that RapLeaf has a tremendous amount of data, including one billion real names and email addresses of individuals. In yet another Wall Street Article from November 30, 2010, companies are building up databases to link computers and cell phones to individual people. BlueCava, Inc. expects to cataloge one billion of the world’s estimated 10 billion devices (computers, cell phones) by 2011, and link them to specific people. BlueCava does not use browser “cookies”, but uses instead things such as clock settings, different fonts, different software and other characteristics making them unique.
So what can you do to stop this invasion of your online privacy and targeted ads to your computer. Well, according to the experts, not much.
I do have a few tipes: 1) you can select the “Do Not Track” button which are now appearing on internet browsers; 2) you can also erase all cookies upon exit from your browser; 3) you can also save all of your bookmarks in a separate file and then erase them from the browsers; 4) you can stop putting your personal information on social networking sites; 5) you can sync your computer clock to the national clock; 6) you can write the State Attorney General and your State’s legislature ask that they take measures to protect your online privacy (like in California). I do have more ideas and will write about them more in the future.