The Targeted Advertising Quagmire: Machine Learning – Convenience Or A Privacy Nightmare?

“You talk to your friend in person about needing to replace your Samsung phone, next thing you know your FB, IG and Twitter TLs are flooded with Samsung phone ads. Are you being spied upon?”

Or, as David Carroll put it in the newly released Netflix Documentary, “The Great Hack”:

“Who has seen an ad that had you convinced your microphone is listening to your conversations?”

Collecting data has always been key to brands, even before technology governed much of what we do today. The more information you have about something or someone, the more power you have when trying to relate.

Due to the ballooning of technological advances, data has multiplied in value and, surprisingly, is easier to collect than ever.

With most of our lives ingrained in the online world – from re-connecting with friends (Facebook), to finding jobs (LinkedIn), to sharing memories (Instagram), to thinking out loud (Twitter), and engaging in real life banter (Tumblr & Reddit) etc. we are no longer looking forward to a global village and are living in a real-time connected world instead.

As such, every action we make online leaves a digital footprint of our psychology and behavioural preference. Every ‘like’ you give, ‘share’ you make, and comment you write aids in developing a digital shadow of your physical self, online – what you like, love, dislike, support etc.

The question is: who can access these invisible yet powerful digital breadcrumbs of our behaviour and preference?

The Answer? Anyone/everyone you give prior approval to.

Remember that quiz you took eons ago that told you which Kardashian you’re most like? Well it still has access to your ever-growing data points, three years later.

How about that game you downloaded that asked for access to your location settings, messages, and contacts? You get the drift.

Why the need for all this you may ask?

Once they collect enough data points, they’re able to curate content for you based on what you like. They’re even able to predict and influence, to a certain extent, the outcome of their advertising. That’s why you might start feeling like every other ad is speaking directly to you.

A relevant example of how this comes to life is the bombshell that was the Cambridge Analytica Saga. Another would be the Samsung ad reference at the beginning of this article.

Should you be worried that platforms have access to your information? Yes and no. Connectivity breeds efficiency, which results in convenience, which in turn makes life easier for everyone. Therefore, the better question to ask would be: how much information is too much information?

Not every platform with access to your data is using it maliciously. That being said, data collection is still a new territory that lacks proper governing laws to protect you, a high value commodity, from being mined for your data. As such, it’s important to govern yourself, read the fine print and question every information access request.

It is time to take the power back and review all those apps and websites you allowed to peek into your psyche.

As people in the industry who rely on these data points to connect with our current and potential customers, it is imperative that we too hold the custodians of these data points responsible, be it us or a third party. Accountability is key in ensuring we do not misuse the trust bestowed on us by the public when they allow us a glimpse into their online lives.

At this rate, the next big thing to make its way out of the technological pipe will be in the field of Data Privacy, what do you think?

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