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Improved ad targeting at the expense of privacy

Advertising continues to shift away from traditional media and more to digital media.  In particular, mobile advertising is the hot platform these days due to it’s ability to not just target customers with a specific profile but also take advantage of location information.  The customization and filtering enabled by digital advertising is helping marketers be more effective and more efficient with their promotional strategies.  A restaurant no longer needs to offer a generic promotion to all customers, they can push a coupon for the item most frequently ordered by each specific individual.

However, according to this article from Wired.com, researchers at the University of Washington have found that this deep degree of ad personalization may carry a price consumers aren’t aware of.  The researchers found that for just $1000 anyone can track a target’s location, learn what applications they have on their phone, routes they take to/from school or work, etc. with significant accuracy.  The article goes on to say that consumers are generally unconcerned about individual companies having location information and other limited data because they trust those institutions, their motivations, or the legal system to protect them from abuses.  However, this shows that any individual can exploit information shared across multiple apps and websites to spy on a specific individual.

The trend toward personalized, location-based advertising is likely to continue.  Do companies have any ethical issues to consider?  Should companies that conduct this level of advertising be required to educate consumers more on the consequences of opting-in to these services?

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