Opinion Column


Treat online ad tracking like stalking

By Laila Yuile, City Hall

Google has run afoul of Canada's privacy laws for its ad tracking. (FILE PHOTO)

Google has run afoul of Canada's privacy laws for its ad tracking. (FILE PHOTO)


Recently, I shared some new plans for a full-on fitness rehab with my friends on Facebook — happy to be able to get back into it after resolving some health issues. Strangely enough, it wasn’t long before the advertising I was seeing completely changed as well. Ads to “Blast your belly fat!” and for Nike runners, and a plethora of other fitness-related advertising, had taken over.

Coincidence? Or had something I posted, viewed or even searched somewhere else give advertisers a heads up to my new fitness regime?

Frankly, I’ve had enough. The online tracking that allows companies to follow your movements over the web is getting downright creepy and intrusive – and it needs to stop.

I’ve never been a fan of advertising, regardless if it’s the incredibly long commercials during Life Below Zero or the thick stack of flyers in my local newspaper. The reality is that it’s the very advertising you and I often find annoying that keeps a lot of printed and online content free. Without a doubt, advertising is here to stay as long as you want to keep reading the paper or view anything online without paying.

But there is a big difference in seeing a regular banner ad in the local online paper, and having specific ads targeting you, your habits and activities seemingly stalk you all over the Internet.

Earlier this year, a complaint was made to the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada by a man who began seeing targeted ads for a specific medical condition he had searched on Google Canada – sleep apnea.

His harmless – and seemingly private – search for a device to help with his apnea resulted in targeted ads for his apnea showing up on other sites he visited after. Following a full investigation, it was revealed that Google had indeed violated Canada’s privacy laws with this targeted advertising.

Read Brent Stafford's response here.

The problem is that even though companies must adhere to privacy laws and quidelines, getting them all to comply, and enforcing it, is an onerous task. While programs like AdBlock can give users relief from online ads and tracking, those without it are left with limited options to stop the advertising creepers.

I think targeted advertising has crossed a line and gone too far. Government should simply ensure they treat online tracking like they treat online stalking, and prohibit it completely.

Laila Yuile is an independent writer, blogger and political commentator. You can read her blog at lailayuile.com.



Should online tracking for targeted advertising be prohibited?

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