If you’re a fan of Terry O’Reilly’s wonderful radio program, Under the Influence (previously called The Age of Persuasion), you might have caught this weekend’s show on hyper-targeting. If not, be sure to check out this episode, which is summarized pretty nicely in the blog post, but is even better in audio thanks to O’Reilly’s dulcet tones.
The episode describes how advertisers have adapted to selling on the internet, from the invention of browser cookies in 1994 to data scraping and real-time conversation monitoring on Facebook today. There are lots of fascinating little tidbits in here on advertisers’ ever-growing capacity to accurately profile potential clients. I was particularly intrigued by the story of an analyst who studied the purchases of Canadian Tire credit card holders: he found that “people who bought carbon monoxide detectors, premium birdseed, or felt pads for the bottom of furniture legs almost never missed payments” but those “who bought chrome skull car accessories or ‘mega thruster exhaust systems’ were credit risks.”
O’Reilly concludes that
“80% of people don’t want to be tracked online. Yet it’s safe to say almost 100% of consumers are. … Some people are fine with giving away personal information on the Internet. As one friend said to me, it’s the price of a free Google and Facebook.
But it’s important not to be apathetic about your data. The more you understand how it all works, and where it’s heading, at least you can begin to exert your own influence on the software engineers, financial statisticians, numerical analysts and data scientists who are tracking you.”