The Next Big Thing online is something that you will use everyday, but you may never know it.
It's called behavioral marketing and several companies have started marketing it to Internet Service Providers. Few have actually jumped on the band wagon in the US so far, but it's gaining more traction in Europe, especially Britain.
It works like this: When you surf the Internet, your ISP collects keywords from the sites you visit, a sort of index of your interests. Then the advertising networks can use that information to serve ads that are more relevant to you, no matter what you're looking at at any given moment.
For example, you might go to chevrolet.com to find out if there's new information about the upcoming Volt. Then you might go to automobilemag.com and edmunds.com look for more information about the Volt and other electric cars. Then you might go to Travelocity to buy your plane tickets to Iowa for a friend's wedding, which is after all why you sat down at the computer in the first place. And there you see an ad for a Toyota Prius.
This technology has got the Internet wonks pretty excited. On the one hand it's a way to really improve the Internet experience for the user, ads would actually be more likely to be useful to you, making them more valuable to you and to the advertiser.
On the other hand, it's all pretty Big Brother-ish. These systems do have controls, they don't typically pull keywords from secure pages, like your bank's, and any data given to the advertiser is anonymous. The link between you and your keywords is kept strictly in the vaults of your ISP, which already has records of your browsing history anyway.
Some are convinced that the public will never accept it. But on the other hand, it's pretty much the same thing that gmail does. Gmail reads your email to serve relevant ads. And all its users were really p.o.-ed when they heard what was going on -- for about ten minutes. Then Google (which also keeps a record of all your searches for the last two years) reminded everyone that your antivirus software reads your email too (in that case for dangerous content) and then everyone got over it.
Personally, I don't know which way I'd go on behavioral marketing. It is the sort of thing that we, as an Internet advertising outlet might be asked to get involved in. On the one hand, I don't really care if some advertising agency has a record of the fact that I look at a lot of car websites. Still, it does seem like the first step in the descent toward some sort of post-apocalyptic reality movie...
What do you all think? Is behavioral targeting cool ... or totally evil?