Article: Creepy or Considerate?

Creepy or Considerate?

By: Joan Ronstadt

            Although you may think that you are just casually searching for something through Google or whatever your preferred search engine may be, really you are feeding vast amounts of information to advertisers. Have you ever noticed how you may have searched for something as simple as “local plumbers” a few days ago and then, almost miraculously, all of the sidebar ads on your Facebook are recommending plumbers, handymen, or home improvement stores? Some people think that this is just an amazing coincidence. In fact, it is far from random.

Behavioral marketing is becoming the blood source for online advertising. Through careful planning and programming, every search you make and link you click sends information to advertisers to properly “tailor” an online experience for you. Some find this incredibly helpful and useful. Others see this as a huge invasion of privacy and find it disconcerting.

Anecdote time! Personally, this system has become a nuisance for me. I took a class that looked a lot at teen pregnancy and STDs and how well informed people were via the internet. Due to this, most of my searches (that were all for scholarly purposes and research) involved key phrases like “pregnant” and “STI.” A year later, all of my Facebook and YouTube ads are still asking if I’m a pregnant teen, if I need to make an appointment with Planned Parenthood, or offering to sell me magical creams. I, fortunately, have no personal experience with any of this in real life. However, my vast amount of searches over an extended period of time suggest otherwise.

In a less dramatic and embarrassing example, friends have told me about how they looked at a pair of shoes online, and were subsequently haunted through every media platform to buy those shoes. Advertisers are being thorough but many consumers feel harassed by the constant deluge and persistence. From the consumer’s standpoint some people find this extremely considerate and that indeed their online experience is being customized. Others just find it creepy.