Imagine that you are killing time in your favourite store when you hear a beep from the band on your wrist. You look at a small screen on your wrist to be told to check out a red jacket in the back of the store. Your phone displays a picture of the jacket so you know what it looks like. Sure enough, there is the jacket in your size, right where you were told it would be. The jacket looks great on you, so you buy it. You pay for it at the checkout counter using your wristband. Does this sound like an episode from Star Trek, well it’s not. This is the world we live in today thanks to social networking sites on the internet that use targeted advertising to make money.
The wristband knew what jacket you would like because it was sent the information from the smartphone in your pocket. The phone had retrieved the data from the Internet earlier. Google has been following your browsing and online shopping habits. An app on your phone was sent the data from Google’s servers. An “iBeacon” detected your phone as you walked into the store and sent you a recommendation from Google. Your personal profile was matched with the available stock in the store and guided you to the perfect jacket.
Having purchased your new favourite jacket, you walk into another department store and your wristband receives another message. This time the message informs you of a jeans sale within the store. You are guided to the exact location of the jeans section and a few more recommendations appear. This time it’s Facebook providing the suggestions instead of Google. The Facebook app on your phone shows you a picture of the jeans and it also shows you a list of your friends that have purchased the same or similar jeans. Your phone also displays ranked reviews, which help you decide to buy them. Your wristband is scanned at the counter to pay for the jeans. The receipt displays on your phone and you continue on your way.
How did Google collect so much personal data about you? Any time you visit a website that uses Google Analytics or Google Ads, Google can monitor your behaviour. Google saves this data in your profile when you are logged in with your Google account. This is how Google can show you ads related to your recent website visits or online purchases. Google can use your credit card purchase history if it is linked to your Google account, unless you have opted out of sharing the information. By combining all this information, Google might know your style better than your best friend or family.
Facebook also uses the information it collects for targeted advertising. The content of your posts, pictures and videos you’ve published, as well as the places you’ve been to build a very accurate profile. Facebook can combine your profile with the interests of your friends to suggest goods or services that you are more than likely interested in. I bet that you have seen some of these already in your news feed. Including information from your friends could also have a negative impact on the accuracy of the information used to send you ads, especially if they have vastly different taste to you.
This type of targeted marketing may seem invasive and you may even question the legality of how these companies gather the information, but it has its benefits. Accurate recommendations are definitely better than inaccurate or irrelevant ones. By knowing your personal taste, companies like Facebook, Google, Apple, Amazon and Microsoft can provide a more efficient and desirable shopping experience. However, it does it does further erode the privacy you once had.
While this anecdote focusses on the customer’s experience of targeted advertising, it also touches on the benefits to the business that the ads are for. If you are a business owner why not take advantage of the marketing phenomenon and team up with the like of google or Facebook. If you can’t beat them, join them.