Gone are the days when advertising was simple and non-invasive. The most an advertiser knew about their audience was the time of day they were expected to watch TV or what newspaper they frequented. If they knew you drove a specific road, you’d find a billboard or twenty lined up on your daily route to work.
Now, the process is much more complicated, but highly targeted for efficiency. Advertisers have a wealth of information at their fingertips and have a delivery system called the internet that allows them to put their ad in front of the right person.
If you’ve ever felt like you’re being watched, you pretty much are. Not physically, but every step you take is monitored, recorded, and sold to be used by the highest bidder. In fact, companies pay billions each year for our information.
Yes, most of us probably realize this already, as we’ve been aware of our usage dropping cookies since the early 2000’s. What most people don’t know is the massive ecosystem of data that’s out there, and there are companies who make a lot of dough buying and selling data at a premium. They’re known as data brokers.
It all starts with a script, or what’s more commonly known as a pixel.
As you access a website, you’ll see the images and content loading, but there’s a lot more going on behind the scenes. A website is built using first-party scripts, which is where the typical content is assembled.
Most sites also have what are called third-party scripts that are provided by someone other than the website owner. There are different types of third-party content on a site, such as an ad that pops up, social media widgets, fonts, and tracking pixels used by Google Analytics.
Using these third-party scripts, the companies running them collect the data and sell it to brokers who process the information they receive and place it into segments. Here’s a snapshot at some of the different segments that are created:
This data then provides advertisers to pull different aspects of these segments they want to use and target directly the specific audience they want to reach.
Websites like Facebook will follow you around the internet and collect information on everything you do. There are hundreds of ways they can target you.
Ever wondered how you can look at that new 4K TV on Amazon, then you go to your Facebook page and you see it advertised everywhere? If you download a song, they know. If you’re buying tickets for that vacation to Aruba, they know about it.
If a seller wants to create a Facebook page to sell Dave Grohl shirts, they can target every single person who liked the Foo Fighters page.
With all this personal data, there’s a lot of responsibility that goes with it. That’s why Mark Zuckerberg appeared before Congress recently to discuss how they use this data, and the EU felt compelled to enact strict laws to better protect its citizens.
In this digital age, there’s not much recourse for people who feel their data is being abused. You agree to allow Facebook to use your data when you sign up and willingly put yourself out there when you fill out your profile.
This makes it so every person is responsible for their data based upon what they decide to share.