A reader has some concerns:
I just discovered something that I think you’ll find very interesting.
My wife and I have Cox internet service, and while I use Internet Explorer on my PC, my wife uses a Mac. A week or so ago my wife was looking for a housewarming gift on her computer, and very shortly thereafter I began seeing housewarming present ideas on my computer. Today she was looking for floor reading lamps, and I am now getting a raft of floor reading lamp ads on my PC (in fact, even the same ones she was showing me).
I have never noticed this happening before. Was I being oblivious all along, or is this something new? Further, are there any deeper implications of this phenomenon (i.e., privacy, etc?) that I should be concerned about?
Well, what you’re experiencing is certainly nothing unusual these days and whether or not we all need to be worried about it may be one of the great questions of our time.
Here’s the deal: Targeted advertising like that is what makes the Internet go. Folks watching TV or reading the newspaper all see the same ads, whether those ads are relevant to us or not.
When you visit a website, you will see advertising targeted to your age, sex, income, and browsing and buying history. Online advertising’s ability to target customers like this is one reason TV stations, magazines, and newspapers are struggling so hard to stay in business as ad revenue drops.
Companies like Google that offer a free search engine, free email, free storage, and dozens of free programs and apps sell advertising based on what they learn about you when you use the products. This is true of nearly any free app or email service and also true of some paid services. Many ISPs also collect data about where you go and what you click on and sell that to advertisers. These days, not only are you a consumer, you are the product. The same is also true if you have rewards cards from a grocery store or other business.
Even if you and your wife are browsing using separate accounts and different devices, you are coming from the same IP address, so it’s not too hard for the computers that place ads to figure out you might have some stuff in common.
If either you have social media accounts and are marked as a couple, that’s another way advertisers might know you were in the same household. And yes, even Apple uses your info to place ads.
If you share an Amazon account or if your wife has ever accessed her Amazon account from your PC, that data could be used to place ads for things she searches for on another device in ads on yours.
Unfortunately, (or fortunately, I guess if you like having a lot of services for free) you’ll find the same thing happens when you post or like something on social media, discuss it in a messaging app, speak about it in an email, search for it online, or any other activity.
One way to avoid the creepy ad placement is to switch to Chrome, Edge, or Firefox and use the incognito or private browsing modes that don’t keep any of that info as you browse. However, they also don’t keep you logged into accounts, so you’ll have to log into any sites you visit every single time you go there.
Back to whether you should be worried – we’ll it’s nothing immediately out of the ordinary. But you’ll find that the younger generation doesn’t have much of a problem with trading their personal information for free services or having their location tracked at all times in exchange for convenience. So, maybe we should all be worried.
That being said, as a person who places ads for the novels I write, I have to say I appreciate being able to only show those ads to people who’ve shown interest in the type of material I’ve written by their buying and browsing history. Saves me a lot of time and effort.