The problem with internet advertising

I heard a very smart person on the CBC today chatting about big data and what advertisers know about us, and how they use it.

I am not about to jump into the fray about the ethics or morality of how social networks and websites and advertisers gather and use information about current and potential customers – no, what I find interesting about big data is actually how badly it tracks me.

As an example, a couple of years ago I went to Peru and wrote a blog about it on one of those free travel blogging sites.  A little while ago the company was purchased by MapQuest. So what do you think showed up on every site I went to for the next three weeks? Ads for airline tickets to Peru. Didn’t they know I’d already been there?

I quite often search of restaurants in Toronto. But if I go to Google and search Toronto restaurants, the ‘personalized’ ad I get is for Zagat. I know, Google, you own Zagat, but it seems to me this personalized ad isn’t THAT personalized. I’m going to bet it pops up at the top of most Toronto Restaurant searches.

I’m not sure if the targeting is lame is because the companies are not allowed to track me too closely (I doubt it, the privacy debates seem to be ongoing) or they don’t want to make it too obvious they’re tracking me (yeah, right) or they’re not looking at the right data or not analyzing it properly, but my observation is that the marketing nirvana of tightly targeted advertising is some ways off, even with the mind boggling amounts of data now available.