I, Target: Hazy Profiles Preserve Privacy?

Personal details are very hazy for advertisers chasing precise targeting. Privacy preserved?  watercolor by Charles Plaisted
Personal details are very hazy for advertisers chasing precise targeting. Privacy preserved? watercolor by Charles Plaisted

Am I target, or waste?

Is it important to know? Is it important to control the decision?

Consumers’ privacy is eroded by the ascendency of online advertisers’ power and prowess. Not only do advertisers know much more about you than you know or permit, they will use it in ways you don’t like, can’t predict, and can’t control. Of great concern to many is that each of us increasingly experiences a filtered Internet, with content, products, offers, even prices, chosen for us by the advertising network. These choices are also made by the companies whose web sites we use for shopping, research, and entertainment.

Office Depot uses customer location and interests, collected from browsing behavior, when selecting products and offers to present. But behavior elsewhere on the Internet is also fodder for algorithms choosing content. WSJ reported on January 10 that, “Wall Street Journal tests indicate people who have ever followed a link from price-comparison site Nextag to office-supply site Shoplet appear to get consistently lower prices there for various products, even in subsequent visits.”

Ad networks collect and consolidate information from your Internet activity and then collect and add in geography, demography, civic and financial information, in order to create a profile of you. The goal in this data collection is to select “the most relevant and engaging content” for you. This information is the basis for many “Recommendations for You” that you see. It is also used to figure out which advertisers will garner the most value from interacting with you now. For some advertisers and campaigns you are the Target; if you aren’t the Target you are Waste.

So what does all this data say about you?

At bluekai.com you can view and even correct some of the data that is gathered about you. Bluekai describes itself as “the world’s largest data marketplace …for audience data trading.” I’ve looked at my profile at Bluekai, and I am at a loss as to who is in the most danger from the inaccurate and inconsistent data: me or the ad networks.

Here’s what bluekai knows about me:
–I am a Gen-X Boomer ready to buy a new used luxury sedan convertible mini SUV.
–I am a Tweener who wants to buy last-minute economy tickets to Australia.
–I am a Spanish-speaking male living in DC and somewhere in Australia.
–My household income is $60-75k , $150-199k, and also $1M.
–I am a high spending soccor mom in my 40s who buys corporate attire.

Ha ha ha! That is all so, so wrong. I’m not sure which of those statements is funniest.

So based on all this erroneous data, advertisers pay to show me carefully selected ads, making very precise decisions about whether I am their Target or just Waste.

This level of inaccuracy is no secret to advertisers. Presumably they are not rushing to embrace the hyper segmentation that is so feared and derided. They hesitate not because of emerging regulations but because of the current limitations of technology. But I think this train has left the station, and will gather speed as data gathering improves in scope and accuracy. The data will get better, and advertisers will use more of it more often.

As consumers, should we embrace or reject being dropped in the Target and Waste buckets?

Do we have, or should we seek, our own weapons in this battle?

Is inaccuracy our friend, the last barricade? If so, are there actions we can take that will ensure that profiles remain inconsistent and inaccurate?

Is there a technology yet to be developed that will strengthen consumers’ power and weaken advertisers’ power? Is that good or bad for us? Is that good or bad for the world wide web?

I’m asking you.


Published by Sue Aldrich

I'm a talented writer who connects business goals with technology, to get your message across through readable and engaging content. I have expertise in personalization, customer experience, journey optimization, recommendations, and search. I also research and write articles on sustainability for my hometown newspaper, Sterling Meetinghouse News.

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