Targeted Ads Come from Creepy Digital Stalking

Some Internet consumers have become inured to the adverts decorating webpages that they visit.  Early on we may have paid attention to their advertiser’s messages, or wondered who places and changes them, and wondered if the adverts caused downloads to be as annoyingly slow as they seem to.  More recently, we probably noticed an uptick in advert relevance.  Too often they address a topic we are interested in and had looked at in a previous webpage.

It’s as if advert placement managers know what we are interested in and when we’d pass through.  Of course they do.  They use a tactic called re-targeting.  Re-targeting is triggered when you visit a commercial website and pick up a cookie that can later. This allows the commercial company to track, follow and advertise to you as you browse elsewhere.  The most relevant adverts are placed on the webpage the consumer is visiting.  That exquisite match is very valuable to the advertiser and the placement manager is compensated accordingly.  The great match presupposes an accurate and deep dossier on that consumer.

Consumer dossiers are collected by tracking the webpage visits of the consumer and then adding that behavior to the consumer’s age, sex, income, purchasing behavior, home location, and current location.  Google has an advantage due to its huge web properties; YouTube, Gmail, Voice, Android and Search.  Each of those properties is continually collecting information for the consumer’s dossier.

Location used to be a challenge, but “Google is now telling advertisers it has a way to [track location] it involves tracking consumers’ smartphone locations all the time, wherever they go, even when they’re not using a Google app.” By comparison, law enforcement is permitted to track neither physical nor Internet location without a court order. Google and others make sure to grant themselves use of personal information about consumers in their long screeds of signup terms and conditions. How many consumers attempted to read and digest that tangle of vipers?

Generally, consumers are leery of revealing personal information on their relationships, health, financial condition and location.  But those topics are kept in the advert placement manager’s consumer dossiers and when millions of dossiers are collected in the same format and place, they become a target for cyber thieves — what could possibly go wrong?

Most consumers understand and agree that the presence of ordinary adverts is the customary price paid for published information shared without monetary charge.  It’s the old-fashioned broadcast TV model.  While many of us do not demand a free lunch from the publishers, we do not want to be stalked by humans or by tracking software, and we do not want to be set up for identity theft when the dossier manager’s database is eventually stolen by cyber-crooks.  Most of us are not convinced by the smarmy epistle on how deeply advert managers value our privacy.  Eighty-five percent of consumers object to giving up personal data in return for adverts targeted to them.   A few like targeted adverts because those might result in a juicy promotional discount, but most consumers object to the targeting process because it’s inherently creepy.

Cookies used to be an important file that advert placement managers used to track us.  The cookie unique to each consumer was placed in the consumer’s PC, tablet, or smartphone.  It was continually updated with new behavioral tidbits that could help select the right adverts for placement.  “Apple… restricted third-party cookies in iPhones because it believed advertisers would be able to garner too much personal information as they tracked you across websites…. Third-party cookies still work on Google’s Chrome browser and the Android OS.”

Chasing and deleting cookies is not a reliable way to eradicate personal information about you.  Today, each of the browser’s advert managers has its own quirks in tracking and updating the dossier that applies to you so different remedies are needed to address the dossier holdings of each.

Adverts themselves are not all delivered through tracking databases.  Some are just placed into webpages and shown to anyone who comes for the publisher’s content – just like adverts in a physical newspaper.  For those who dislike all adverts, software is available to block all online adverts.  This “ad blocker” software is in use by 200 million people and it will reduce publishers’ revenues by  $22 billion in 2015.  To counteract this revenue assassin, anti-ad blocker software has been developed.  The anti-ad blocker reinserts ads into web pages.

Instead of anti-ad blocker software, some publishers installed a test for the presence of ad blocking, warning the visitor that nothing will be accessible until the ad blocking settings are disabled. Forbes and Wired used this tactic. Where appropriate, the visitor is then offered the alternative of subscribing to the site and leaving ad blocking in-place. This seems like a reasonable stance for publishers to take.

There are a clutch of settings in your browser that control whether tracking is permitted and what files the browser is permitted to place on your computer or phone.  To find the right approach for your own browser and operating system, you should look for advice aimed at your browser.  Some of the most useful help procedures are located here, here, here, here, here, and here.  Other sites may be more current and relevant to your situation.

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