Here's the backstory: I'm out at dinner with my fiancé and his friend. We're talking about odd movie moments, and a memory stirs. I say, "What was that movie where that guy had a penis rocking-chair in the basement that you could sit on and it went up and down?"
Our poor friend. What would your reaction be if an about-to-be-married couple started talking about that movie they watched with the penis chair?
You may already know I was referring to the Coen brothers' "Burn After Reading", and the crazy contraption made by George Clooney's slightly demented character. At that moment, though, I couldn't remember the movie at all, not the name, the cast, or the plot. All I knew was that it had a chair in it and it wasn't a porno.
So I Googled "movie penis chair invention basement."
Without going into too much detail, I found the results less than helpful. (My favorite read: "Fifteen Time-Saving Household Inventions.") I figured the inclusion of the male organ was generating a bit of noise, so I tried my query again, sans penis. Success! "Burn After Reading" was the first result.
So now I'm wondering, based on recent search history, what kind of ads are going to be targeted my way (or, more accurately, my fiancé's way, since it was his iPhone I was using). If they use clickstream data, he might be OK, but if they just use his queries, he's going to be hit with some very strange ads over the next few days. And this is just one of the myriad situations in which search behavior may be wholly un-indicative of purchase intent.
Last Wednesday, Wendy Davis eloquently tore apart the arguments for behavioral targeting, quoting "some Web company executives [who] are saying that free content will disappear from the Internet because privacy regulations could have the effect of destroying online advertising."
What?!? Privacy regulations could destroy online advertising? Then how has television survived? Or how has Google managed to get this far, since they've historically only targeted based on the current search?
Look, let's get something straight here: online advertising is not going away, because online is where the people are. Saying that advertisers have to be allowed to target is like saying that lawyers have to be allowed to provoke lawsuits. It's entirely self-serving and patently ridiculous.
I'm actually not inherently opposed to behavioral targeting, but I am vehemently opposed to attempts to frame the argument in misleading ways. The privacy concerns associated with behavioral targeting and the question of whether it should be opt-in have nothing to do with whether advertisers will continue to advertise, and everything to do with serving the best interests of the Internet-using population.
That is the issue at stake. That's what I care about. And that's what needs to remain at the heart of this discussion.
My chair search reminded me of the importance of eliminating noise. Let's get this noise out of the behavioral targeting conversation.