Advertising is Getting Smarter, Are We?

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Technology remains one of the greatest symbols of our strength as human beings, but it’s not without its concerns.

From the field of journalism—which provided advertising with a slew of potential consumers to target through newspapers—to politics, the old way of advertising was stomped-out like an embering cigarette butt found by a park ranger.

New tactics are aggressively being pursued, but it puts the privacy of Internet and smartphone users at risk of being manipulated for votes and dollars.

In a piece by ProPublica, they uncovered new details on how tech giants Microsoft and Yahoo are using information that users divulge willingly (but not always knowingly) to sell users highly personalized political advertisements.

Microsoft and Yahoo said they protect users’ and potential voters’ information. They said the private information is sent to a third party. Some of those third party companies that specialize in targeted ads are CampaignGrid, Resonate, Grassroots Targeting, Targeted Victory. Microsoft and Yahoo spokespersons also say that private information that is used by campaigns is aimed at groups of potential voters, not individuals.

However, Google and Facebook said they do not use these kinds of targeted ads. Facebook only uses political targeting if users voluntarily express an interest to do so, according to them.

When it comes to privacy over the Internet users don’t leave a lot of leeway for companies obtaining the information, but industry experts feel that this could level the playing field for smaller campaigns. Since targeted political advertising can be cheaper and more efficient that TV advertising, this could have game changing effects on how political campaigning is done.

Both Mitt Romney’s and President Barack Obama’s campaigns are using targeting ads that use highly sensitive user information. Romney’s campaign refuses to discuss their tactics and Obama’s campaign staff assured ProPublica that they are respecting people’s privacy, but they would not divulge how they are doing so.

When the RNC was asked about similar concerns about privacy they assured ProPublica they are following legal guidelines, but wouldn’t say anything else about their tactics. The DNC refused to comment, however.

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Recently Facebook was sued over their ability to take users’ profile pictures without their consent and have it featured on an advertisement that one of their “friends” may be interested in.

This advertising tool is known as “Sponsored Stories.” Facebook executives have called this the most effective advertising tool Facebook has.

Due to the lawsuit, Facebook will have to give users the option to allow the company to use “Sponsored Stories.” The effects on the company’s revenue are not yet known as this was a recent decision, but this can’t be a good thing for Facebook’s bottom line.

It seems like yesterday when the movie “Minority Report” came out. It was revolutionary in the ideas Spielberg represented. Japanese companies are already working on creating targeted billboards like the ones in the movie. The billboards will react to individuals based on store cameras that will read each person’s facial attributes. The longer the camera is able to scan your features, the more accurate the advertising.

Targeting advertising seemed like an idea we wouldn’t see until many years from now, but it’s here and it’s taking over. Our information is for sale, but many of us aren’t getting paid. The only thing I’m confused about is why I’m not yet able to buy my car that can drive itself.


  1. I imagine this is only the beginning as well. There’s so much information shared intentionally and otherwise that is being collected but, at present, most companies are just collecting since the data is too vast to act upon just yet. The day will come, however, when your GPS phone location data, your internet cookies, your previous comments on blogs etc and the information you’ve willingly provided all converge to create a personal sphere of marketing that surrounds the user.

    Question: Is there room in this sort of future for a service that creates and manages “bogus” avatars or personas so that people who are worried about privacy can still utilize services without revealing their life’s history or committing to a life time of free Starbucks coupons?

    1. Exactly. I’m sure all of my tweets, Facebook statuses and blog posts are being stored to curtail advertising specific to my likes. It’s crazy. I already have something against spam advertising so it’s going to be really hard for them to reach me.

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