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BLOG: Help, I'm being stalked by the BBC (and also online advertisers)

Dan Tynan | April 25, 2013
Web trackers are indeed following you -- though probably not as closely as one BBC reporter just did to me.

So this week I'm on the BBC blabbing about how Web tracking companies are out to get us. What did the Beeb want with me? Read on for the details.

It started with this blog post I wrote a few weeks ago about how certain ads - one in particular for Jitterbug smartphones - were stalking me across different Web sites. I'd finally had enough of that and went into the Digital Advertising Alliance page to opt out. That's when I discovered an "interests profile" compiled on me by a company called BlueKai that detailed 471 categories I might fit into, including "trendy homemaker" and "soccer mom."

That post caught the eye of Matt Danzico, a reporter for BBC News based in New York City. He flew down to my office to film me in the act of being tracked online, talking about what I'd found and what shenanigans Web advertisers get up to. But, being the creative sort, Matt also had some fun with it. He filmed me walking down the street outside my office, with him hiding behind trees and lamp posts and jumping out at me unexpectedly, as if he were a spy. (Or possibly an elf.) He coerced total strangers to pretend to stalk me. He got us kicked out of a downtown café. (I still haven't gotten up the nerve to go back.)

He then did the same thing to Peter Eckersley of the Electronic Frontier Foundation in DC, and filmed Direct Marketing Association CEO Linda Woolley in her New York office. (Not surprisingly, he skipped the stalking bit with the DMA.) Danzico edited hours of footage down to a tidy 3 minutes and 41 seconds, added an appropriately sinister spy movie sound track, and posted it to the BBC News Web site. It will be broadcast to an unsuspecting nation of Brits sometime this week.

I'd embed the video here to save you the trip, but the BBC does not countenance such tomfoolery. It's worth watching, despite some scary close-ups of yours truly.

I do, however, have a few post-video fact checks to add.

1. In the video, the DMA's Woolley makes the following statement:

"I think most people in the United States do know they're being tracked online. And I also think that they're OK with that. They get the economic model of the Internet. And the economic model of the Internet is quite simply that free content is supported by ad revenues."

Actually, surveys by the Berkeley Center for Law and TechnologyHarris Interactive, theUniversity of PennsylvaniaGallup and others consistently indicate a majority of Americans are not OK with being tracked online.

 

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