ad serving agencies like ...

13 February 2001

ad serving agencies like doubleclick have been tracking us around the web for ages. you’ll go to a variety of websites in the course of your surfing and some of them will probably serve up banner adverts for your delectation. then the ad agency will be able to figure out a bit about you. since you used the same computer and the same browser they are able to put together a profile of what you like and where you go. but they don’t know who you are. so despite the wealth of data that they undoubtedly have on me i don’t worry about it very much.

now, on a seemingly unrelated note, amazon have gone into sort of competition with paypal and launched the amazon honor system which is designed to allow small payments to be made on websites, with amazon taking a chunk of the cash of course. on the whole more ways to pay money on the web is good, all this stuff doesn’t maintain itself and there’s only so much that can be done for love and not money.

what amazon do is serve a box from their server on someone elses website that allows you to click through to amazon and pay that someone. what’s spooky is that the box uses amazon’s database, which knows who you are if you’ve signed into your account at amazon (and 29 million of us have apparently) and therefore greets you by name. in the few days since they’ve launched this system i’ve been to maybe ten sites that have said “hi kirsty, give us some cash!”. now i know that the owner of the actual webpage doesn’t get to know who i am unless i tell them independently, and i know that amazon say that they don’t keep track of which websites they see me visit, but something about the whole personalisation thingy is really haunting. apparently amazon give me the option of not being welcomed by my name, but they still know who i am all the same!

i thought that was bad enough but what is worse is that i can’t even use this system. there are a really low number of choices for making small payments over the web on a non united states credit card. paypal and ebay’s billpoint are the only two i know of that don’t have ludicrous charges or minimum amounts. it took paypal forever to get their international version running. and even amazon, with their huge global setup, who happily send books to the uk for me, haven’t managed to let me give or receive at the launch of this new system.