Targeted advertising exploits insecurities
I've mostly learned to ignore the loud and often obscene ads that litter the edges of my Gmail and Facebook accounts, but every so often the accuracy with which they pick up tags in my emails nabs my attention. Never enough for a click through, but enough for a shudder as I consider how much of my personal life Gmail or Facebook would be able to piece together by examining my internet usage.
Facebook's data miners know much more about us because we tell them a whole lot more. Facebook knows my birthday, my relationship status and which book I'm reading, among other personal tidbits. The site started turning this information into dollar signs last November with the launch of Facebook Ads, which targets users' presumed areas of interest (or psychological soft spots).
Not only do these platforms freely collect your personal information, but the intensity of online advertising has ramped up in order to demand your attention - even if that means calling you "Muffin Top" to sell diet pills, telling you "You're Ready to Committ" to sell engagement rings, or advertising "Hot Gay Men" to sell...well, hot gay men.
Perhaps in response to complaints from Facebook users regarding aggressive weight loss ad campaigns, some of the harsher versions have been removed.
Last month, it beefed up its advertising guidelines, in part to address the diet ads. Any ads that refer to health or medical conditions can go only to users 18 or older, and they must "present information without portraying any conditions or body types in a negative light."
Though this is a step (backwards) in the right direction, it doesn't change the ease with which we provide personal information to giant corporations through our daily online transactions. I've conducted serious conversations through 'private' Facebook messaging, uploaded countless photos into Fbook's database, and input more than enough personal information to my profile. You can even look people up through their postal code location - which likely foreshadows the next inevitable advertising scheme: precise geographical targeting. Soon enough I'll be receiving ads for the discount electronics shop that just opened up around my corner.