Online target practice: Friend or foe

I turn on my computer and click on Safari. 10 ads flash before my eyes: boots, sweaters and jeans. Everything I want before fall starts.

Gif by freefromwix

When the perfect ad just “pops” up, I start to wonder. How do these people know what products I want to buy?

Social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and Twitter have algorithms that make ads show up on one’s feed that are customized to their liking. Many websites also use the same tactic to sell more of their product. This brings up concerns about how these big companies know what consumers want to see because it’s a huge invasion of privacy.

Tracking what someone does online and using that to benefit a company through ads is intrusive and interferes with their online experience by taking attention away from what they want to view.

I looked at a pair of light wash jeans on American Eagle’s website. Unknowingly, the information from American Eagle’s website that said I looked at those jeans will go to a third party advertising network and stored as a cookie, according to The Washington Post.

Illustration by Taylor Fenton

Later when I visited another website, an ad showed up for the same pair of light wash jeans I clicked on and a shirt to match them. It’s honestly a pretty smart way to grab someone’s attention in the hopes that they will buy those items, but it still violates those rights to privacy.

Social medial platforms, such as Facebook, have an option for businesses to advertise based on what the people’s interests, location, demographics and behaviors are.

With Google’s personalized advertis

ing, they have policies that they follow and expect ad companies follow as well. They make sure that through collecting a user’s information, none of their email addresses, telephone numbers or credit card numbers are stored, along with ensuring that their precise location is never shared without their consent.

Many people may not know they may have the option to prevent these intrusive ads. Platforms such as Snapchat gather information “they’ve collected outside of Snapchat” (according to Snapchat). But, they also give their users the option for them to not collect that information.

In Snapchat's settings under “Manage Preferences” and then “Ad Preferences,” they give Snapchat users the option to turn off ‘Snap Audience Match’ without limiting the amount of ads they’ll see. It just doesn’t collect their personal data and customize the ads that appear.

While Forbes author Theo Miller argues that Facebook’s targeted ads are worth the privacy risk on a corporate level, they are intrusive and sketchy to the public.

They were a smart idea in the first place so that businesses can cater to specific people’s preferences to achieve a higher sales closing ratio, which leads to higher profits. Something like tracking what someone clicks could get out of hand or misused.

The privacy issues surrounding customized ads bring up a lot of questions and uneasiness. There’s a possibility for identity theft that can’t be overlooked even if there are benefits for the business.

What else can these companies see besides the light wash jeans I clicked on? Who has access to my information?

There are many unknowns about how these ads might hurt the people using the internet and that’s the cause of all of the apprehension around the thought of someone monitoring what people do on the web.

I really do believe that these ads are a more effective way for businesses to target their market without spending additional dollars on TV or in newspapers where not everyone is who they’re trying to sell to. But, the information they collect could put their customers in a problematic predicament.

These targeting tactics can also be looked at as spying. These companies are using their time to get to know potential consumers and their likings so that they can pinpoint exactly what they can convince them to buy.

Consumers have a responsibility to educate themselves on how to limit target marketing to avoid the annoying “pop up” advertising. They should find out if it’s possible to opt out of interest-based advertising, like with Snapchat, if they aren’t comfortable with big online companies intruding in on their history.


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