For a couple of days I’ve been eyeing off a pair of shoes online. The consumer war going off in my head was driving me insane, until (with great self-control) I closed the tab and realised I did not need another pair of shoes and that was the end of that. At least I thought it was. You see, for the next couple of weeks, my Facebook, internet browser, and most visited pages drowned me in banner ads advertising those shoes – haunting my every move on the web – and there it was; the revelation; the realisation that everything we do online is being tracked, monitored, and turned into data, only to be used by advertising and marketing agencies alike. In fact, most of our behaviour within any media space is being tracked these days. Scary, I know.
So what exactly is being tracked?
Do you know those little ‘cookies’ we enable in our internet browser? Well think of them as internet spies; spies who assign you an ID number and remember the pages you visit, the products you buy online, and whatever information you provide. Such information is used across multiple sites, even unrelated third parties who “piggyback off the site you have visited (WSJ Live, 2010) and allow for what Christina Tsuei (WSJ Live, 2010) refers to as ‘behavioural targeting’.
How many times have you been online and seen an advertisement for a product that matches your interests, or a recently visited site? Quite a few, I bet. WSJ Live (2010) says it’s rarely a coincidence. They talked to the creator of cookies himself, and he calls the concept an “ecommerce solution for the web.”
So ask yourself, who does Facebook think you are? A quick look at the ads and you can start to build a profile. As far as I’m concerned, Facebook thinks I’m a 63-year-old man interested in investing his Super, all because my dad did that one Google search. Thanks old mate, I appreciate the life insurance ads.
But there seems to be a gap in the system because sometimes the internet doesn’t always get it right. Not taking into account multiple users could be one reason, but check out these profiles gone wrong.
“Are YOUR Facebook Ads Accurate? Mine Think I’m Preggers” – The title says it all.
And this guy…
And while you can stop the cookies with anti-tracking toolbars or strict privacy settings, there’s a sneaky new technology in the midst that employs what Forbes.com (2014) refers to as ‘Canvas Fingerprinting’. Will we ever be able to fully anonymise our presence online? There’s a thought. But for now, click here to see who Google thinks you are, and let me know how that goes for you.
But why is this information so useful?
When it comes to behavioural targeting, audience measurement is everything. Advertisers and marketing agencies use that information to reveal trends in the market; trends that have a real impact in media planning. Ultimately, it’s all about the money, money, money. If a site can convince an advertiser that they’ve got the hits and the demographic for their product, then they’ll be willing to pay the big bucks.
That explains why Biebs is all over the Dolly site.
And why mobile app Snapchat is talking with advertisers. Talk about the cash money millions.
So next time you view, click, swipe, or ‘Like’, think about the media footprint you’re leaving. Think about how your behaviour may have influenced the ads within that media space. And while you’re at it, why not view, click, swipe, or ‘Like’ things your normally wouldn’t, just to mess with them.