Targeted Advertising: What is it and How does it Work?
Targeted advertising has always been around, in the past people were targeted with advertising based on demographics such as age and gender. The targeted advertising we have now is a much more developed version of that as people are targeted based on their likes and interests rather than what group they fall into. As advertising has been around for so long people learned to switch off and ignore adverts which forced companies to adapt and improve to regain consumer attention.
Now, most adverts are online adverts, these adverts remember anything that we have previously searched for and recommend products and services based on your own past searches. It works thanks to a development called cookies, all of your internet activities are tracked and now saved to a file called a cookie. An example of how this works is if you were to go onto Amazon and search for a Taylor Swift CD, Amazon would save this information as a cookie. Then if you go onto another website, that website will read this cookie, will know what you have previously been searching for, and generate adverts based on this, such as Taylor Swift merchandise. Another example of targeted advertising many people will be familiar with is how the instagram algorithm works, it will recommend posts to you based on your previous likes, accounts you interact with, and how frequently you use the app to tailor the experience for you. This can be a complicated topic that brings up many questions in relation to things such as privacy so we’re going to answer some of the most commonly asked questions about what targeted advertising is and how it works.
Is this an invasion of my privacy?
Do targeted adverts work across devices?
In short, yes they do. If you search for a product on your mobile phone then it’s possible to see targeted adverts based on that search when you’re on your laptop. As there are no regulations around targeted adverts then advertisers can pretty reliably guess who you are based on a number of factors such as your location and logging into the same sites, such as Facebook, on different devices. Advertisers claim they don’t keep sensitive information in these files but because of the lack of regulations, it’s hard to define what is classed as sensitive information.
What can I do about it?
This type of advertising will be around for a long time but there a few simple things you can do for some additional protection online. The best thing is to install an ad blocker as this will prevent any ads at all, targeted or not. You can also use an incognito mode which allows you to browse privately online.