...C is for Cookie Monster...Image by ???? via Flickr

The appetite for advanced consumer tracking technology online has been exploding over the past few years.

Specialized tracking companies that collect and organize your daily online surfing behaviors have been around for awhile. Recently, however, a new breed of companies that collect and build advanced consumer profiles have been springing up like mortgage dealers in a housing bubble as the online ad market grows.

On one hand, this is good news for interruptive online advertisers because at least ads are becoming more relevant via precise targeting. Advanced tracking definitely helps advertisers become more efficient and maximize ad $$.

Invisible Ad Friends

On the other hand, the level at which folks are being tracked & segmented today via incredibly smart algorithms capturing data from everywhere (social networks included) feels a bit creepy. Though most folks probably realize that their actions are being monitored online (cookies have been around since the good ole’ mid 90s) they might not realize that in 2010, they are quasi opting in forced to surf with an invisible “ad guide.” This “invisible hand of Don Draper” serves up reminders of what people previously viewed online (see this Wall Street Journal article on how tracking across the web has grown more sophisticated).

Where does this leave us? I’m obviously not opposed to all online advertising as a Brand guy. But, I personally think we still have way too much “Digital Fog” on the net. I’m all for more transparency when you surf and/or buy something online. In that context, I really like what Jeff Jarvis says ad supported sites should do about this going forward:

If I were an advertising-supported site, I’d be aggressively transparent. I’d tell you exactly what we track and what impact that has on what we serve in advertising and content. I’d create an app to read the cookies placed just for you and explain them. I’d give you the chance to correct information. I’d give you the chance to select your own advertising (now that would be valuable). I’d treat this with radical openness.

Project VRM

I also like the idea that there needs to be a solution on the consumer side. Why can’t we have “independent” tools that follow us around the web and make recommendations for us (without too much of an agenda?) There are folks out there working on this (see Project VRM). Project VRM is looking into the development of tools by which individuals can take control of their relationships with organizations – especially in commercial marketplaces. It will be interesting to see what Project VRM comes up with…

What are your thoughts here?

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