Personal information sold to advertisers

Columnist Amira Dabbas

Columnist Amira Dabbas

Does anyone else find it a little creepy how items from your online shopping carts somehow manage to find a way to advertise on Facebook?

How about when you’re scrolling through Instagram and the “suggested post” is related to something you were googling the other day?

A big development has been the rise of “programmatic buying” or also called “real-time bidding” which is basically a way for advertisers to buy our attention from platforms who are collecting our information.

Ads are placed according to algorithms that tell the advertisers how relevant the ad is to consumer, hence that pair of shoes you were looking at a few days ago that keeps popping up on the side of your Facebook.

"The convergence of social and mobile has given an addressable audience online that’s 100 times bigger than ever before,” says Jonah Peretti, the founder of BuzzFeed.

Advertisers no longer have to rely on the media to reach their target audience, they can reach the individuals on a personal level. They can now electronically bid for digital ads and target them to specific consumers.

Our attention has now become an inanimate object up for grabs.   

Programmatic ads are advertising to people who are defined as the most likely to be interested in what they are selling. While traditional ad selling focused on the ad placement, programmatic ads are focusing on the viewers.

Characteristics of that person, behaviors and demographics are all taken into consideration.

However it’s not just that, it goes way deeper. Data such as cookies or your login ID’s are used to track consumer behavior.

Key words searched, videos watched are all looked at by social networks and publishers in order to know exactly how to market to you. It’s like being under a microscope, and that microscope is also trying sell you things.

The scary fact is that the advertising industry has access to consumer information that is easily collected from us over the internet and we don’t even think twice about what is going on, or who what is being done with all of this data.

According to eMarketer, Americans spend over 12 hours a day consuming media and digital media accounts for around half of that total.

Considering that social media users are more than willing to share personal information about themselves, social networks hold a goldmine of data about them.

Facebook and Twitter are literally selling the attention of their users to advertisers. They are able to see other sites users visit, which assists in the selling of information.

Conversant, a digital-marketing firm, uses an algorithm to send out over 800,000 variations of an ad to prospective customers. This ensures it becomes as attractive to the consumer as possible.

Kraft, a food company we all know and trusted has an office which specifically monitors online opinions of its brands. As if that wasn’t creepy enough the company went ahead and named the office “The Looking Glass.”

Good one, Kraft.

It seems as though consumers may not mind this loss of privacy. It’s as if everyone knows that somehow this is wrong but for some reason would rather have everything handed to us through an invasion of privacy than fight to keep it.

Advertising is now being tailored to our specific needs however at what cost are we willing to have everything at our fingertips.