Privacy and Digital Marketing
This week, Facebook announced that it paid $19 billion to acquire messaging service WhatsApp. Many have made the connection between Facebook’s purchase and their need for consumer data. One thing this purchase does highlight is that Americans are becoming increasingly concerned about their privacy online. Lapses in internet security on e-commerce sites and online platforms can cause users to fall prey to scams and viruses that can affect their computers, bank accounts and identities. The U.S. has taken measures to protect the privacy of internet users, but some are still skeptical that the measures adequately shield them from attacks that leave their personal information in the hands of cyber criminals.
Aside from this legitimate concern, users are also preoccupied with the thought of popular websites and social networks using users’ personal information for their own benefit. Many of the sites that we use every day allow advertisers to send their messages to us based on demographics and other information we sign away voluntarily through Terms and Conditions and public posts. Some sites argue that this tailors your experience to your personal preferences, but it is not always clear who benefits more at the end of the day.
Advertisers use your personal information to create awareness of a brand or cause, sell products or inspire action from a user, and every type of organization uses it. This means multinational corporations, small businesses and even charities. Having access to some of your personal information, including your recent searches, allows these organizations to target those who are most likely to engage with their ads and their websites. Without targeting specific regions, sexes, age groups and interests, their ads would be incredibly inefficient and would cost them more than it would benefit them. Marketers are already spending more than $110 billion on digital advertising.
A sampling of the types of ads marketers use online is below:
- Social network Ads
- Google Ads
- In-app mobile ads
- Remarketing on other sites
- YouTube Ads – Video- and Text-based
Advertisers are able to reach you in virtually every capacity online, so should you be upset? Well, you can be, but there are some benefits to sharing your information with these marketers.
- Tailored Ads. Sharing your information for the sake of advertising may do more good than harm. It tailors the internet to your tastes, and keeps unrelated advertisements out of your view.
- Remarketing. Have you ever gone “window shopping” online and decided not to purchase any of those things in your cart, then magically see those items appear in the banner ads of unrelated sites and social networks? That’s an effect of remarketing. This isn’t good for your wallet, but if you actually want to buy these things online, remarketing gives you great (and blatant) reminders.
- Access to a great site. It is hard to imagine the days before we began to depend on websites and apps to keep us in touch with friends or track our workouts. In exchange for sharing our information, we are provided with valuable tools that help make our lives better. Is it really so bad that an ad for a local juice bar pops up in the banner of your exercise app?
You have control over which ads and sites you choose to engage with. The less you engage with an ad, the less sense it makes for advertisers to continue spending money to target you. You also do not have to accept every site’s Terms and Conditions. It is unlikely that your ad protest will shield you from every advertisement, but it will definitely make you feel more in control of your online experience. If you choose to use these ad-covered sites, you are still getting a good deal. Share your interests and select demographics for a promotion from a store you already shop from. It’s not the consumer that gets the short end of the stick, it’s the advertisers.