I recently made a big life decision: I got a dog. I also bought a house a few months prior but no one cares about that. Now that I’ve had a dog for a few weeks I’m now an expert in both veterinary care and parenting so I’ll be starting a Doggy Mommy blog soon. Stay on the lookout for my recommendations on bibs and bones.
I’m kidding… although…
All of my ads are for dogs
What having a dog has done is added me to a large audience targeted by what would appear to be MANY companies. Of course the audience I’m talking about is pet owners. How did my dog do this? And how do these advertisers know I’ve invited a perfect furry angel into my home?
Retargeting is what happens when you’re browsing the web and suddenly you see advertising for items you just visited three sites ago. Sometimes it goes unnoticed because you are too busy looking for that perfect chew toy your dog won’t immediately devour. (Hint: It’s this snake. Enjoy those Chewy ads.) Other times it’s incredibly noticeable since you’re pretty confident you just left that site.
Once that cookie is in place, advertising networks can now place you into audience categories. In my case it’s people who have pets, and specifically dogs. They know this because I spent a lot of time on websites like Chewy trying to spoil my dog who I’ve only known for a few weeks but would lay down my life to defend.
Networks like Google can use your browser’s history to determine what sort of person you are. Do you have pets? Kids? Interested in watching the news? Depending on the sites you visit, you’ll start seeing ads related to those things — assuming the advertiser paired the correct target audience with the correct ad. According to my browsing history I should have a steady diet of 100% dog food, which has been duly noted by dozens of dog food manufacturers.
If you start seeing weird ads for items you wouldn’t necessarily use in your day-to-day life, maybe don’t mention it to other people. It’s likely Google thinks you’d be into those things and it’s probably based on sites you’ve visited. So mentioning it to your coworkers will just make them start questioning what it is you do in your personal time. And they will judge you.
Your computer and your phone are narcs; plain and simple. They’ll give up your location with the slightest of provocations, such as Google just asking where you are. For instance if the advertiser only serves a certain location or they are trying to break into a new market, they can choose locations like zip code, cities, or a radius around a location. Some ads can target down to a 4 foot by 4 foot square. Who could possibly need to target that small of a space?
Seeing as I spend my time either at home with my dog or out walking somewhere with my dog, I'm usually within a pretty limited geographic area. This allows all those dog-centric companies wanting to target the greater Akron area to serve me ads, and trust me, they do it a lot.
Why would my dog do this to me?
Turns out your internet activity directly results in you being fed advertising. And your internet activity is directly affected by what you do outside of the internet, like getting a dog.
But targeted advertising isn’t all bad. The data collected from your daily habits is used to serve more relevant ads. This way you are seeing products and services you are more likely to be interested in, rather than an onslaught of useless ads you would never in a million years click on. Now, this isn't to say that all data collection is good. Clearly a line can be crossed when data is used for malicious purposes, even in the context of advertising.
My dog is unaware that any of this has happened. She doesn’t use the internet. She hasn’t signed up for a Facebook account (I’m jealous). She doesn’t have a malicious bone in her body. She’s absolutely perfect and if you say otherwise I WILL END YOU. Although, maybe she is aware since she now has more new toys than I do. But I stuck a microchip under her skin so we'll call it even.