Is Web Analytics Evil?

I’ve been coming across more and more articles that seem to imply that web analytics, and the analysts who do the analytics, is inherently nefarious. They seem to imply that web analysts are no better than peeping toms (at best) or big brother (at worst).

Many web analytics advocates, such as the venerable Eric Peterson, have also been commenting on all the negative press. In fact Eric has even go sone far as to propose a “Code of Ethics” for web analysts that may be adopted by the Web Analytics Association (which I’m all in favor of).  The Wall Street Journal in fact calls web analysts “spys.” However the Wall Street Journal are hypocrites as they themselves “spy” on their users as well using Omniture.

The mistake that is being made is that people are afraid that these tracking companies are identifying them personally and targeting them personally. While behavioral analytics and targeting is used to learn people’s behaviors and then market to people based on this behavior, it’s far from “personal.”

The data that analysts work with is in aggregate. Most tools that we work with will also only provide data in aggregate, with the exception of when someone actually “opts in” through a web site by signing up and providing personal information – in which case if they read what they are agreeing to, part of it is to be tracked and at a more personal level.

Even then once you are a known entity to the company and analysts, they have privacy policies in place to not share or sell your personal information. Any information they do share or sell will be the anonymous, aggregate data that helps them get advertiser dollars, and helps the advertisers target ads based on your preferences.

If you are browsing a web site would you rather see ads for online continuing education classes or hottest new destination vacation spot? Which type of ad would you be more likely to click on? By targeting ads, marketers can increase sales. Without ads, you might never know about that new blender that  just came out, or the new electric car that’s coming out. Also, without ads, many web sites would either go away, or be forced to charge subscription fees so you can access them.

Advertisers for years have been trying to find ways to increase clicks on their online ads. First were the infamous “pop-ups” which people summarily rejected and found ways to block. After that fiasco advertisers realized they had to find less intrusive ways to get people to click on ads. Ads targeted based on your preferences were the next logical option, but for advertisers to understand your preferences they had to understand your online behavior.

At the end of the day what you get are less intrusive ads from companies that you may actually be interested in purchasing from, which keeps companies purchasing ads and keeps the web sites you enjoy free.

Now is that really so evil?

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