Targeted Web ads & critical thinking

"Behavioral targeting," believe it or not, could be a great topic for family discussion. Sounds like a big, nasty sociological term, but it's really about critical thinking, or knowing how others might be trying to manipulate us. When teens are wise to that, they know how to protect themselves from manipulation. Anyway, behavioral targeting is quite likely happening to Web users at your house, and the Federal Trade Commission is actually looking into it, the Washington Post reports. Here's what it is, very basically: Internet companies tracking people's Web search behavior and visits to special-interest Web sites in order to target them with ads (read the article to see exactly how with people planning weddings). Here are the two sides of the debate: "while public interest groups argue that compiling profiles of largely unsuspecting Internet users ought to be illegal, online advertisers and publishers respond that their ad targeting tactics protect privacy and may be essential to support the free content on the Web." Indeed, there is money in it, as highly targeted audiences (aka those mostly likely to make purchases) are very valuable to sellers. [See also "How social influencing works."]

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