When does ‘uncomfortable’ advertising cross the line?

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I always get a little freaked out when an advert appears on a random web page, tempting me to buy something that I’ve previously looked at elsewhere. Yeh, I know it’s the canny tactic of AdChoices, but it still makes me feel a little uncomfortable knowing that my every online move is being traced.

My slight overreaction – and the worrying onset of new age paranoia – came flooding back to me this morning when I read a story about online video search company, Blinkx. According to a Harvard professor – whose blog has rippled across the internet, causing the company’s share price to plummet – Blinkx has been ‘defrauding advertisers’ by ‘sneaking on to users’ computers’ and installing third-party software that targets them with unwanted pop-up ads. Clearly, the company ‘strongly refutes’ the allegations.

Now, for one, how on earth do you ‘sneak’ onto a computer and do such a thing? Being technologically inept, the whole concept is just mind-boggling for me. But, once I get over that rather large stumbling block, I can’t help coming back to the grapplings I have with AdChoices and where the line should be drawn when it comes to proactive marketing.

I guess we’re all in the game of pushing messages and brands out there, prompting people to ask questions, reconsider their choices and ultimately buy what our clients are trying to sell – hell, being proactive is what PR is all about. But the whole idea of trying to induce buying decisions, through what I regard as underhand means, is surely a step too far?

One thing’s for sure, this episode has done wonders for the power of blogging – although I doubt that’s much consolation for Blinkx or its investors!