On Facebook? You’re being stalked online

Updated on Nov 17, 2007 01:31 AM IST

Advertising goes high-tech with online marketers bombarding social networkers with ads based on their web-surfing habits, reports Praveen Donthi.

HT Image
HT Image
Hindustan Times | ByPraveen Donthi, New Delhi

If you are on social networking sites like Facebook or Myspace and being bombarded by ads of all kinds, here's why: you are being watched like never before and your online behaviour is being profiled by online marketers under what is called behavioural advertising.

“These social networking sites are ‘digital gold’ for marketers. Information is now being used for behavioral targeting with new technology like MySpace’s hypertargeting and Facebook’s Beacon,” Jeff Chester of the Centre for Digital Democracy, which had taken up the issue with the Federal Trade Commission of the United States, told HT.

Rajiv Aggarwal, a student on Facebook who loves films, often finds his homepage splattered with ads of websites from where he can download music and films. He had mentioned his obsession with Bollywood in the ‘hobbies’ section while signing up for his Facebook account. He is not the only one to be piled with ads. There are many like him.

“In behavioural advertising, search engines and online advertising networks serve ads to users, based on web-surfing habits. The social networking sites are trying their best to exploit the detailed personal information their users provide,” Vikram Bhardwaj of eStats India, an online tracking firm, said.

It’s not just Facebook and Myspace but a host of other sites like Orkut, hi5, iLike, LinkedIn, Ning and Plaxo that have agreed to let third party developers use the information available on their user profiles under a new venture called ‘Open Social’.

Most users are unaware of the terms under which they have signed up. In the case of Facebook, it states: “We reserve the right, in our sole discretion, to change, modify, add or delete portions of these additional terms at any time without further notice. It is your responsibility to regularly check the site to determine if there have been changes.” Pam Dixon of World Privacy Forum told HT, “It can’t just be a pre-checked box at the very bottom of a web page. It needs to be meaningful, affirmative consent.”

Nine US privacy and consumer organisations have asked the FTC to implement a ‘do-not-track’ list, on the lines of the ‘do not call’ registry, for those who don’t want to be stalked online.

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