Lets face it we all hate the fact that if you use a search engine to look something up, for weeks you see adverts advertising the product you looked up.

About a month ago I was researching ‘Sockets’ yup the things that you use to loosen or tighten bolts. I had no interest in buying any, it was a research project. For days after it didn’t matter where I went online, I saw adverts for sockets. I was clearly tagged as a potential buyer of a socket set.

It is called target marketing. Because I had searched for Sockets I clearly wanted to buy Sockets. Well, this is where it goes wrong. I have no intention of buying a Socket. I was trying to establish a base line on prices for a client.

This is hardly the first time that I have seen the ‘Socket’ phenomena. If you search on a consumer item the item will come back to haunt you.

Several months ago I was asked to find an 8 camera security system for a local company. The best bang for the buck was a Night-Owl system sold through Tiger Direct. It was cheap and cheerful and fit the specs for the project. For weeks after, it did not matter which web sites I visited I has hit with security system adverts.
I understand that advertising is a vital component for the survival of the vast majority of Web Sites. But it is a shame that clearly clever minds are being wasted tracking my bizarre shopping habits.
If you use the internet, someone is watching. This is a fact of life, but are there ways around it?
Possibly. In the early 90’s I was a keen yacht racer, my cohort in crime was Jeff, he worked in stealth things, how to make planes that radar could not see.
One evening after a fun afternoon of abusing our fellow sailors we were in his ‘sporty’ aging diesel VW Jetta as it huffed and puffed its way up the long climb on the I15 from down town San Diego as the speedometer crept every lower. I asked Jeff a strange question. I made a point of never discussing his work, as I knew he could not talk about it. Instead I asked about anti-stealth. The chances of us getting a speeding ticket were zero, the speedo was registering 45mph.
“everyone has a radar detector and as far as I can tell radar guns, in fact radar in general uses Doppler Shift to calculate speed and distance, even size”
Jeff agreed with this broad over simplification, so I plowed on.
“so would it be possible to build a device to shift the Doppler Shift. To make a VW Jetta seem to have the RCS (Radar Cross Section) of an aircraft carrier traveling at 300mph”?
Jeff said yes, it would be possible but what would be the reason?
“simple, if you get a speeding ticket, you fight it in court, explaining that a clapped out diesel Jetta cannot possibly have been traveling at 300mph”
We didn’t build the device, apparently it is illegal to use ‘active’ countermeasures.
So, what does this have to do with online ads? Actually quite a lot. There is a word, it is an interesting word ‘obfuscate’:
render obscure, unclear, or unintelligible.

I wanted to bewilder the cops radar gun, it was illegal, however it is entirely legal to obfuscate your whereabouts online. Why not hide in plain sight?
Wired has a great article on the subject.
This strategy if widely adopted would have dire consequences for Google and Online Advertising. It turns the whole concept of target advertising on its head.
Simon Barrett

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