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What Is Behavioral Targeting And Why Should You Care?


We’ve become so used to online marketing and advertising its second nature by now. Remember when you could watch a YouTube video without 12 ad breaks? It seems almost impossible to remember a time before there were ads all over the Internet. Now targeting is so advanced that the wrong online search could mean ads for adult diapers across all of your social media. 

We’ve all been there. You talk to a friend about something or do a quick search and suddenly you’re inundated with ads across all social media. It’s enough to inspire a bit of paranoia. When did ads become like Minority Report with brands sending you ads before you’re thinking about buying something? This is all tied to behavioral targeting. 

What is behavioral targeting and why does it matter?

Behavioral targeting is when marketers use data they collect to optimize their marketing efforts. Behavioral marketing is a field of marketing where companies collect user behavior to more effectively target specific advertising to you. Behavioral targeting can be choosing when to specifically target when they show you ads, what copy or content they share with you, and even to more strategically target ads to you using personal information they’ve collected.  

Behavioral targeting can be as simple as an influencer checking the most popular times to post to their Instagram feed or as advanced as companies like Amazon tracking what you search for, what you buy, and even where you hover your mouse to more effectively get you to make a purchase. The dilemma is that one major part of behavioral marketing is behavioral tracking. And tracking doesn’t go over well with many people. 

We are sharing a lot of our data already

Knowing you’re being tracked can make anyone paranoid. But honestly, all companies need some of your data to function. This can be your password and account information to give you access to what you paid for, your location to better get you deliveries, or even certain information to protect your privacy. There also is legislation to protect your privacy. The issue is third parties. 

To circumvent some of this legislation third parties can use cookies to collect information. Some of your favorite apps can send data back to third parties, as well. If you’re on an online retailer or website there are regulations governing the information you can collect. But these third parties are in a gray area.  These third parties can work with multiple websites and by collecting small bits of information here and there put together a full picture of your habits, searches, personal interest, and other aspects of your private life to better sell products to you.  

Combatting behavioral targeting

Legislation like California’s California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) and Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) have been put in place to try and eliminate some of this third-party loophole. But with every update of new tech comes the risk that your favorite websites, apps, and retailers might be focused more on advertisers rather than people’s privacy. 

Recently, Google Chrome revealed their latest API can track when you’re “idle” on your phone. This brings a whole host of concerns about privacy. Not just for the potential for advertisers to focus their efforts on when you’re actively online. It also just reeks of surveillance and violating privacy. 

Oftentimes, these privacy concerns and issues are not top of mind until something bad happens. For example, Cambridge Analytica famously used a Facebook app to collect a ton of user information and use behavioral targeting for their political clients. And while on paper everyone is against “user tracking” even Google has had to face fire from open source developers like Mozilla and DuckDuckGo for their tracking. 

Google Chrome’s FLoC was an attempt to allow for anonymized tracking. So that may call into question if it’s your ideal web browser. Do you really want big businesses to know your search history? It’s problematic because it eliminates our privacy while also assigning value to it. 

Behavioral targeting is not inherently evil. Given the perilous nature of privacy on the Internet, it also doesn’t bode well for the future, though. There are so many people who want their hands on your birthdate, your information, to get their hands on your money. Your best place to start is to take a look at how the advertising or marketing that you consume just might be related to something that you expressed a curious interest in. 

Remember you can always decide to use a VPN, anonymous browser or install apps to block third-party cookies and protect your privacy. Check out some of our articles or the Easy Prey podcast to help stay in the know about online privacy.

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