While browsing Facebook or Google, you may have noticed the abundance of personalized advertisements. Sometimes, these ads can get quite specific based on your interests. You could be shopping online for shoes, and then for the remainder of the week, you’ll see countless ads for shoes popping up on your Facebook feed.
But how do these ads work—and how do they get so specific?
Facebook has previously explained how they offer such targeted ads. Facebook uses all sorts of methods to decide which ads to show to specific people. The ads you see are based on your age, gender, location, and pages that you’ve liked.
Data is also obtained based on the device you’re using to access the site. Facebook also has access to what you search offline. They have access to your search history, and the pages that you visit outside of Facebook, which is how the advertisements become so personal.
According to Microsoft’s privacy page, the company is able to collect data on their users by using cookies. The website also states that they receive information through third parties. But they state that they do not use what users say in chats, video calls, or voice mails to gather data for personalized ads.
To get more information on the matter, I contacted CCIT professor Alessandro Delfanti.
Delfanti explained that these online media companies offer free services, and can record data about our behaviour. He explained that through the data collected, they are able to create a surveillance system that records what each user does. This includes reading your emails. By doing so, the system “calculates” which ads should be targeted to which user. The ads are also able to target the user geographically. This type of system proves to be an efficient marketing tactic.
Delfanti stated that this system “intersects with state control, as government agencies can and do work with digital media and mobile phone providers to obtain data that can be used for social and political control.”
I asked UTM students what they thought about personalized ads, and if they were bothered by them. Mariam Said, a fourth-year English student stated that she found the personalized ads to be “creepy” and “somewhat annoying.”
Farah Gabriel, a fourth-year political science student, stated that she also found them “creepy” in a sense. She described an instance in which she searched for flights online, and then returned to Facebook and saw ads for flights.
These media platforms are aware that not all users are comfortable with personalized ads. If users are uncomfortable with them or have privacy concerns, in most cases, such as on Google, Facebook, and Microsoft, they can opt out of seeing them.
In cases where an opt-out feature isn’t present, there is no way out: personalized ads are here to stay.