Earlier this month, Microsoft filed a patent application that presents a method of collecting information about users’ “cellphones, geolocation systems, credit card information” and other sources of data to select and display “targeted advertising”. While collecting user data to target advertising is nothing new, Microsoft’s filing points to another source of data: offline sources.
This collection of user data has been a touchy issue with consumers, but a spokesman for Microsoft indicates that patent filings don’t necessarily indicate product plans for the company, and that before anything were implemented Microsoft would check it against their privacy standards.
Like most online advertising schemes, Microsoft gets paid when consumers click on ads that a company has placed. To earn more money, they need more clicks, which reveals exactly why refining the targeting of advertising will net them more income.
In the patent application, Microsoft describes technology that would first better align search results with a users’ offline behavior,and then “an advertising component employs the user profile in connection with the delivery of an advertisement.” Offline behaviour could include credit card information and purchase related history, and data relayed by cell phone towers could be utilized to locate users and “tailor search and advertising during online experiences so as to better interpret queries to search engines, to better target advertisements.” Another type of offline behavior that can be monitored, according to the filing, is TV viewing habits:
“If the offline behavior indicates the user was watching a college football game … if the user goes online during or just after such activity, then an inference could be made that the user is interested in seeing more information about the game as well as being receptive to advertisements selling college-team memorabilia.”
Personally, I would not be comfortable with this type of offline behavior monitoring by Microsoft, or any other company. Especially not for the purposes of advertising to me. How would you feel knowing that Microsoft could track your credit card purchases, locate you anywhere in the world by your cell phone, and keep track of everything you watch on TV? Surely if they could do that, it wouldn’t stop there.