Cyber-Ad Attack! 
Published: Oct-27-10

I read a book a year or two ago called “The Digital Plague”, set in the not-too-distant future, in which a character had to distract the guards throughout a facility they needed to wander around.  The character did this through an interesting means of ad-personalization-hacking.  Basically, they first dug up all the names of the guards in the facility, and found out where they were at any given moment.   Second, they purchased ads against that person’s profile and put up advertisements on the displays lining the facilities they knew would appeal to each guard enough to distract them.  (in the future displays were everywhere).  You can imagine late-breaking news about your favorite sports star, movie star, a dress you want on sale, etc. etc.  Of course, in the book it worked perfectly.


In real life, I recently started thinking about the new wave of personalization technologies on the web.  Companies like Exelate and Blue Kai offer the ability to buy ads to searches based on very detailed profile information.  The cost is only pennies per impression. With Zip+4 and a few other profile items, I figured it would be easy to target an individual with a set of ads.  So I’ve been wandering, what type of ad-attack could I get for $20?  Could I take-over the ad-space on someone’s searches for an entire day…a  week… a month?


My good buddy Andy told me about a story on NPR where someone did just this.  An advertising-executive looking for work bought online ads that targeted profiles of the top execs in the company he wanted to join.  When the company execs searched the web, there was his smiling face all over saying “hire me”.  Needless to say, he got the job.   I could instantly see lots of subliminal ways to start influencing people based on this technique.  It could be just as easily used for bullying, for harassing colleagues, competitors, etc.   


How will people handle it … will anyone notice… will there be junk-ad filters in the future that work like today’s junk-mail filters? Will people pay even more money than advertisers to take over their own ad-spaces?


*Charles Nebolsky is the Global Director of Development for Accenture Technology Labs.


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