Microsoft's Latest Ad Product Dances Around Spyware Definition
from the not-when-we-do-it dept
One way that advertising providers and web site owners are trying to drive ad rates even higher is by offering advertisers the ability to narrowly target their ads. After all, one of the great strengths of internet advertising versus other media is that the same ad doesn’t have to be served to every viewer, and the ability to put the right ad in front of the right person is pretty valuable. There are lots of different ways to do this, such as methods that divine a user’s rough location via their IP address, or by serving contextual ads based on the content of pages users are surfing. Then, of course, there are more nefarious ways, like building a profile of users’ online behavior by surreptitiously tracking their activity — the defining characteristic, of course, of spyware. This sort of behavioral targeting is attractive to more respected companies as well, and Microsoft says it will begin using it to target ads on its online properties. The company will take personal information Hotmail users report on themselves, then link it to their search behavior, if they use Microsoft’s Live Search. Microsoft says the system is anonymous, and that it won’t pass individual users’ personal information to advertisers. Given past leaks of supposedly anonymous search records, those promises aren’t likely to instill much confidence. Furthermore, what makes what Microsoft says it wants to do any different than any run-of-the-mill spyware vendor? Obviously there’s none of the shady installs or resource-chewing applications that typically characterize the spyware business, but it’s not clear what else separates what Microsoft’s doing, apart from the name. There’s plenty of debate over just what constitutes spyware, and Microsoft is going to be very careful to label its efforts “behavioral targeting”, while there’s probably some sort of “opt-in” users do (whether it’s clear or not is another question). Also, Microsoft may have a relatively small pool of targeted users, given the relative unpopularity of Live Search, particularly when cross-referenced with Hotmail users. At least one thing seems clear, though: why Microsoft had an interest in buying famed adware vendor Claria a little while back.