If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em?

July 18, 2010 by · Leave a Comment
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An article in Friday’s New York Times discusses a new start-up, Bynamite. What the people at Bynamite want is for us to take back control over the information that advertising networks have about us. Like they say on their home page:

You should always be in control over what advertisers know about you – you should be able to see it, change it, and delete it. If they won’t give you control, they shouldn’t use your information.

So they tell you what the ad networks know about you, giving you the chance to change that. This all seems very in keeping with recent developments surrounding privacy – being able to know what others know about you and correct errors in that information.

But I’m wondering about the direction of this. One of the features of online advertising is that it commodifies our online behavior – the links we click, the searches we do – and turns it into commercially valuable information. What Bynamite is doing is saying that this is an irreversible process, so you might as well have some input into it. Some input may be better than none, of course, but there is a sense here in which this new start-up is encouraging us to be active players in our own commodification and to help advertisers target us even more accurately.

The truth is, then, that Bynamite is not a company that has anything to do with privacy, except in the rather loose sense of controlling the information that marketers posses about us. The benefit that they offer us is that we might see fewer “irrelevant” adverts. Excuse me if I’m underwhelmed…

Update: One of the Bynamite founders took the time to comment on this post. He points out that:

Bynamite opts you out of ad networks that *don’t* give you enough transparency and control. If they won’t show you what they know about you, and give you the power to change their profile, then they can’t use your information. That give-and-take is built into the product, so that if we are successful, it should mean an overall increase in consumer power over the ad industry.