One big debate these days in advertising circles (of course there are many) revolves around privacy, and just how much we as advertisers know about our prospective targets. Healthcare.gov’s recent wishy-washiness about sharing consumer privacy information helped fuel the conversation. While I’m not a fan of privacy invasion or over-the-top hacking and snooping, I do fall firmly on the side of the statement above. I know I’m going to see ads on websites, in apps, in TV programs and ahead of that tile-grouting video I just searched for. My sense is, it might as well be an ad for something I give a hoot about as opposed to something totally unrelated to my world. In fact, for me, the more relevant the better. And that’s exactly how it’s supposed to work.
Three ways to see who’s watching you online.
If you’ve ever wondered who’s watching you, or who knows what about you, it’s not hard to get a good view. Just about everywhere you go online…no matter what platform…you’re picking up cookies or in some way leaving a trail of data. Here are three ways to get a glimpse of when someone’s watching and who knows what:
1.) Website trackers
Ever wonder who’s lurking behind the browser? Who’s warehousing data every time you mouse over a picture or click a link? Fly over to Ghostery and click on the button that says “Add to (whichever browser you’re using).” After you do you’ll be treated to a magical looking-glass on each page that looks something like this:
The list will change from page to page and site to site, but it shows you who the data aggregators are that have placed pixels and are collecting data on that page, as well as the ad exchanges and traders that are serving ads on that site. Clear your cookies if you want, but every time you come back they will still be there. Your only choice in thwarting them is to block cookies…but remember, you’re gonna see an ad anyway…
2.) What Facebook thinks of you
Those guys at Facebook are so smart, and transparent, that if you want to know why you’re seeing a certain ad, all you have to do is ask. Not only that, if you’re not seeing what you want, you can actually add to your preference list. Here’s how:
a. When you see an ad on Facebook, hold your mouse over the upper right hand corner until an X appears. Click on it, then click on “Why am I seeing this?” Another box will pop up with the answer. Could be you’re the right demo. Could be you like to do certain things or go certain places. Or it could be a lot vaguer, like “this company wants to reach people like you.”
b. Within the second box, click on “Manage my preferences.” Within the box that opens you can see everything Facebook thinks it knows about you relative to the ads you see. Click on each content area to see individual data tags relative to your content, profile or activities within the site. Some of it will be dead wrong, some right on the money.
c. If you think Facebook has it wrong, or is missing some things, you can actually customize this profile. You can delete individual preferences, or, at the top of the page is a box that allows you to add preferences. In fact, you can do this whole exercise on practically any ad on any website. Click on the arrow or box in the upper right corner of an ad, then look for the link to manage your preferences. Rather see ads about Disneyworld? The NFL? Here’s your chance. Because remember, you’re gonna see an ad anyway…
3.) What the Shadow knows
On the creepier side, try out the Digital Shadow and let it build your virtual profile. The site, which is really a clever app built by Ubisoft to market the game Watchdogs, lets you log in using Facebook and then builds a rather eerie, contrived picture of you and your life using your profile data. With claims like, “We know who you are,” “We know who you care about,” “We know how to find you” or “We know what you’re worth,” you can’t help but feel paranoid. If you’re like me, you’ll find quite a bit of it laughable (yeah, try looking for me in the Bahamas). But the idea of getting a glimpse at how data trackers may see you is interesting.
Bottom line is that advertising will continue to become, more and more, a technical business. As an advertiser, you want to know as much about your potential customer as possible. Data trackers and online profiles help you do that, help make the online user experience more relevant, and I believe make it more efficient for all of us. So go ahead, serve me ads for SCUBA diving and sport fishing off of Freeport. Because, hey, I’m gonna see an ad anyway…