Should Website Advertisers Know Your Name?

SF fans recall the irritation felt by John Anderton in the movie Minority Report as he tried to walk through a mall - while being addressed by every department store advertisement he walked past.


(Video of Minority Report targeted advertisements)

In the movie, Anderton was identified by means of a public iris scanner; his iris scan was compared to a database, and his name and other data were pulled out and presented in real time.

We're very close to being able to do this in real life. Sprint has tried ads triggered by RFID-based loyalty cards. In a special opt-in trial, cell phone users in France tried billboards that could call you as you passed by. In Japan, SuiPo posters can call your cell phone.

The New York Times provides an interesting view of personalized ads - right in your own home, or on your laptop or iPhone. The reporter asked Google, AOL, Microsoft and Yahoo a simple question - "can they show you an advertisement with your name in it?"

The short version:

  • Microsoft
    "Microsoft stands alone on the name-ad question. The technology company has gone beyond policy making and created a technological barrier to using people’s personal information in advertising."
  • AOL
    "AOL does have the ability to offer ads containing people’s names, which are provided to AOL during registration. But, if AOL offered “name-ads,” which it has no plans to, its privacy policy only allows it to place those ads on AOL-owned sites."
  • Yahoo
    "Yahoo is open to the idea of name-ads. A spokeswoman said that Yahoo can customize ads with people’s registration information, if they are logged in."
  • Google
    "Google told me that they “might” have the technology be able to serve such ads that show your Google user name, and that they have no current privacy rule against it."
I don't usually editorialize, but I can't resist in this case. I don't know if you have ever had this experience, but Amazon has in the past run ads that looked at your Amazon cookie. If you were a logged-in Amazon customer, and you went to a site with an Amazon ad running, the ad would state your name in its sales pitch. It's disconcerting.

The future shown in the Minority Report movie video clip shown above is a real possibility; it could certainly be implemented on your computer while web browsing.

I liken web shopping or web browsing to looking into a store window. I do not want to feel that I am being personally watched while I "stroll" past your website. I want the choice about providing my name and personal data to be my choice alone.

What do you think?

Take a look at the nicely done article at Where Every Ad Knows Your Name - from Bits, the New York Times technology blog.

Scroll down for more stories in the same category. (Story submitted 3/12/2008)

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