In the West, web users have known for years that advertisers drop “cookies” onto their desktops (via their web browsers), and that these little pieces of code tell advertisers what they’re looking at.
In China, however, the state-run TV channel China Central Television just discovered this fact. It aired an investigative, undercover hidden-camera story on the web ad business as a purveyor of secret tracking information on innocent Chinese web users.
It’s a shocking expose. Or it would have been had it aired in the mid-1990s, when cookies first came into use.
Cookies help advertisers target people with ads. If you browse a web site for tennis rackets, you might start seeing ads for shoes on subsequent pages. Cookies don’t, however, identify individual web users. They simply aggregate them into blocks of targetable audiences.
Ad Age noted:
The Star added that executives at Yoyi, Avazu and iPinYou Interactive were secretly filmed in CCTV’s report. One was caught on camera saying:
“You will not be able to see the codes whenever you visit a website. If you can see them, who will be willing to go online?” she said.
Oh, that’s right. Everyone on the rest of the planet.
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