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Cross-Device Targeting and Those Shoe Ads That Won’t Go Away

Do you know why the shoes you looked at on Amazon suddenly appear on different sites around the web, even from your computer to smartphone?

Researchers from the School of Information Studies (iSchool) recently published a study that uncovers the general public’s blindness towards online behavioral advertising and the privacy implications behind information that advertisers collect.

converse-shoes

You didn’t buy them and now they’re going to follow you everywhere.

Consumers are generally in the dark not only about how much they are being tracked online but exactly how it works.

According to the research, a sweeping two-thirds of consumers did not realize that most online advertising involved third-party cookies. This research demonstrated that consumers are not well informed enough about just what types of information are being collected about them.

“These guys [third parties] have an agreement with Amazon, they are like, ’Oh, I’m just going to take information from this guy’. Facebook gets money by displaying the ads sent by these guys [third parties]…this branch [third parties] allows that to happen. So in a way it is a neutral third party.”

– One research participant, when explaining how she believes third-party cookies to operate

Advertisers are increasingly employing cross-device tracking, which presents additional privacy and security risks. Cross-device tracking actually allows ad companies and publishers to construct a consumer’s profile based on their activity throughout computers, tablets, smartphones, smart watches and various IoT devices.

What is cross-device tracking? 

Also referred to as cross-device targeting, this is in fact several different methods that are used to identify and track you across multiple devices—smartphones, tablets and desktop computers. The goal of this is to match your browsing data on one device with another. For example, knowing that Tablet X and Computer Y are the same person.

Publishers, platforms and ad tech companies want to know as much about you as possible, so they can target you across multiple screens. Imagine shopping for sunglasses on your computer, seeing an ad for them later on your tablet, and then receiving a text message with a special promotional code on your smartphone.

Offline data is often combined with online data to reveal consumer tendencies such as browsing history, physical location, retail purchases, watched TV programs, vacation plans and so on. This study confirmed that the majority of the people are more concerned about what types of personal information are being collected on them, rather than who is doing the collecting. The fear of consumer data falling into the hands of those with malicious intentions alludes to why consumers block advertisers and advertising networks from their browser in the first place.

While some advertising companies already offer the ability to reject behavioral targeting, internet users are generally not given any indication that they are being tracked, let alone how. If these blocking tools operated on an information-based blocking model, rather than a tracker-based model, consumers could decide the information to share, and advertisers could still receive some data from consumers, which would help them correctly target ads. It is indeed a compromise, yet it yields benefits to both parties involved.

Read the entire study here.

If you’re concerned about your online privacy, you’re not alone. UR is a web browser created specifically to keep your online data private and safe. Learn more here.

Sources

Federal Trade Commission, https://www.ftc.gov/system/files/documents/public_comments/2016/10/00030-129045.pdf

AdExchanger, https://adexchanger.com/data-exchanges/2016-edition-marketers-guide-cross-device-identity/ 

AdTriba, https://blog.adtriba.com/2016/06/28/cross-device-tracking-and-marketing-attribution/

Beyond Cookie Tracking

The recent discussion about being tracked online is becoming increasingly prevalent. A new survey from a group of Princeton researchers of one million websites crops up new ways companies are using to follow your digital trail. Instead of placing a tracker on your browser, many sites are now “fingerprinting”—using information about your computer such as battery status or browser window size to identify your presence. One of the authors from the Princeton study, Arvind Narayanan, speaks of his research, the latest in online tracking and the world of pervasive surveillance that we are embarking upon.

“Everything that we look at online and click on is getting stored in a database somewhere. And it’s being data-mined and various decisions are being based on that. Targeted advertising is a relatively innocuous example, but there are a variety of other things that can and do happen.There is research that shows that when people know they are being tracked and surveilled, they change their behavior. We lose our intellectual freedom. As we move to a digital world, are we losing those abilities or freedoms? That is the thing to me that is the question. That’s the most worrisome thing about online tracking. It’s not so much the advertising.”

See the full study here.

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