If you shop online or use social media on a regular basis, you’ve probably wondered how the ads you see seem so perfectly suited to your own interests. That’s because you told them. Really, you did, but it’s unlikely you were even aware of having done so.
Some experts refer to this practice as just another component of today’s ever advancing “stalker economy,” referring to constant surveillance for what you buy, talk about and “LIKE” online. It’s all being monitored by websites and social media pages on which the transaction occurs. The data is collected, analyzed, and regurgitated into useful information and sold to future advertisers.
No longer do advertisers need to track ‘cookies,’ those tiny bread crumbs of data left behind when you visit a website that lay a clean, detailed trail of your online pathways. Instead, they just get the information directly from you – in many different ways.
While there is so-called, “do not track” legislation designed to regulate companies which monitor and customize ads based on a user’s experiences, the laws are mostly toothless. Much of the existing legislation makes compliance voluntary. Plus, if a user does not want to be tracked, the information is still collected but no personalized advertising will be generated. Why even bother having the laws in the first place?
Today’s “stalking economy” is unlikely to change but rather get progressively more invasive and nosey because of the explosion of mobile devices and enhanced cellular communication options. According to the CTIA-The Wireless Association, 89-percent of people living in the United States have mobile broadband subscriptions.
The CTIA’s research shows that, “The U.S. wireless industry is valued at $195.5 billion, which is larger than publishing, agriculture, hotels and lodging, air transportation, motion picture and recording and motor vehicle manufacturing industry segments.”
It might sound like just a lot of meaningless industry trivia until you consider how much goes into its infrastructure and operation. From website and app development to marketing and advertising strategies, hundreds of thousands are employed in the business of keeping you connected to your favorite things. And the advertisers sell to millions that way.
Many experts still believe the mobile and web-based media industries are still just in their infancy! Think of it, just five years ago most cell phones were barely capable of sending a text message, today people can do their banking, video chat with their children away at college and watch the TV show they missed the night before.
Learning to capitalize on America’s obsession with the web has made tracking essential, but still relatively unwanted. Of course there are those who simply don’t care if their online activity is being monitored. If anything, these individuals believe they’ll be of the first to know about a new product or service and be in on version 1-point-0, trend-setting from the ground floor.
Most websites allow a user to opt-out from receiving advertising material, but that won’t stop them from keeping an eye on them. So what’s the good side of the “stalker economy” to the consumer? Over the long haul, consumers are more frequently introduced to products and services they wouldn’t have otherwise known about and in a much shorter time period than would have been possible otherwise.
The consumer also wins because advertising to a highly focused target market will cost less to execute. Since marketing is one of the most expensive parts of selling a product, this will help the merchant maintain affordability.
It’s doubtful that people will ever be completely free from electronic snooping, at least the kind that keeps a running list of our Amazon purchases. But you can do some things to limit what they see. First, read everything; every single line presented to you on a website regarding your account or how your information is used. The rest is due diligence. Keep a running record of websites you use for social media, shopping, whatever. Make sure they have what you want them to have and no more. In any case, it’s up to you to decide how much to put out there. Keep it as little as possible.
Gery L. Deer is an independent columnist and business contributor for WDTN-TV2 LIVING DAYTON program. More at www.deerinheadlines.com.