What the internet knows about you that you think you never told it

What the internet knows about you that you think you never told it

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Directed and Targeted advertising, how it works and why it’s not creepy.

Have you ever opened up your social media accounts or went to search something on the internet, only to be stopped in your tracks by the advertisements directed at you? It seems that someone has been reading your mind. Has someone been listening to your conversations, watching over your shoulder? Or are you so completely typical of the demographic of a person of your age, gender and social status that you get the product ads just right for you? It is not as creepy as some web users like to imagine. No one has read your mind. Well, not directly. You gave some hints, some direct clues and the rest was conjecture based on surveys, algorithms and human behaviors. Targeted advertisements have been happening for quite some time and businesses are paying a lot of money to bring the image of the very boots that you have been searching online into the corner of your Facebook page.

There is nothing sinister in the practice of directed advertisement. It is quite simply the use of highly specific characteristics, demographics, search engine habits, cookies, and a variety of statistics collated by digital marketers to tailor advertisements to a certain cohort. It is no accident that your YouTube video begins with either slick GAA footage and car promotions or with saccharine advertisements for Werther’s original boiled sweets and stairlifts. This is tailored and this is who they (the internet) think you are, and they think it, because you told them.

How you told the internet who you are

Even with your ad blocker and you refusing all the cookies that the internet ever offered you, information is pulled from web usage. Search inquiries, social media pages, product views and all online activities give information. Then the internet sourced information including geographic locations, socioeconomic groups, the time of day or night you like to browse and other behavioural patterns using algorithms. A picture was formed.

Clickstream data

All your clickstream data, the record of the pages you visit, are kept in a small text file called a cookie. For some of us that will be one mighty big cookie. Cookie monsters, you might say. Websites can talk to your computer through cookies, allowing them to interpret the clickstream. This is one of the ways that targeted advertisements manages to pay to place direct ads in your line of sight. If your clickstream data contains a lot of yoga related searches, you will see yoga-based commercials on your pages.

Daily Data Habits

Alongside the clickstream data there are other ways for the profile of the ‘consumer you’ to be compiled. Search Data: The darling of all digital marketers. If you searched for it, you must want it. Search engine companies analyse the words typed into the search bar and determine habits and hot topics to assist with positioning of advertising. Check out our blog on 2021 searches for staycations and other outdoor keywords. Purchase Data: This information is collected from online stores and is responsible for giving your kids advertisements for the next hot video game before they have the wrapper off the one, they just bought. Profile Data: LinkedIn, Snap Chat, Instagram and all the other places where we display our thoughts, favourite meals, our CV’s and the cats’ particular brand of cuteness on the public domain is a rich source of data for those who want to sell us stuff. Algorithms are chugging away all the time to direct and target and personalise ads.

How do you avoid targeting?

Privacy is a very big issue for consumers and while data collection at this level may not necessarily be an intrusion of privacy, it does creep a lot of people out. Users of Google and Facebook have a lot of say in whether they want to be targeted. OBA or Online Behavioural Advertising is subject to rulings by the Advertising standard of Ireland and the EU. These rules provide the public with transparency and choice. Companies involved in OBA must provide notice about the collection and use of web viewing behaviour data including how web users can opt out from receiving Online Behavioural Advertising. So, you always have the option to opt out. If you choose to turn off online behavioural advertising, it does not mean you will no longer receive advertising on the internet. However, it does means that the display advertising you see on websites may not be tailored to your likely interests or preferences on the web browser you are currently using. You will still see ads. Right Click on the ‘AdChoices Icon’ of any website you are visiting and manage the information gathering and what you want to see.

Privacy settings on your computer can be managed and you can also manage cookies in the privacy settings on the web browser you are using. GDPR rulings have made targeted advertising something you can now control. You can use ad blocker to decrease what you and they see. Much can be done to draw the curtain on the private living room of your interests and consumerism, but do you really want to block it all out.

Is tailored advertising such a bad thing?

Is it so terrible if the internet thinks you are a cat loving, clean freak who likes recipes for guacamole? Very often the directed advertisement may be exactly what you are looking for. Sometimes it is interesting, great value and not something you could have sourced without some time and effort.  With cookies being managed on all web pages we visit and the choice to opt in rather than out to most advertising streams. No one knows us fully.  Everyone knows an aspect of us and so it is with the internet too. They only know the bits you dropped breadcrumb hints for them to follow and the parts that the surmise from demographic studies and algorithms. Advertisers and digital marketers are aware that they get it right, or partially right and so will invest time and money in getting the right product visible to the right user. It still allows you to make choices about what data you share, what you see and there is always the option of messing up the information with a few random searches for whale fishing and cross-stitching jumpers, just to see what happens!

The Eu is very clear on how targeted advertising should impact on consumers.

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