Ad Personalization: How Society Knows You

Ads are everywhere. We see them, we click on them, we very rarely enjoy them. However, one thing that has revolutionized the Advertising Industry over the last decade is Ad Personalization. This software has completely changed ads over the years and it is now becoming more important than ever to be aware of what corporations know about you (I’ve also been watching way too much Mr. Robot). 

I’ve read very little on Advertising and Marketing. The only book I’ve read cover to cover on the subject is Seth Godin’s Permission Marketing. Godin discusses how the Marketing Industry will need to adjust for new tech emerging within the Internet and how companies can take advantage of the more personal aspects of the Internet (like how we can follow someone without ever meeting them).  It was a great introduction despite being slightly out of date. What we face now is a completely different monster. As consumers, and not creators, we are subject to far more personalization than ever before. Advertisements have been customized to target our exact interests based on everything we search (or say) to our phones, computers, televisions and even e-readers. Facebook knows every company I have ever searched, every page I’ve visited, every ad I’ve clicked on and every ad that I’ve blocked. Google knows my age, gender and any interest I could possibly think of.

If someone asked me what I liked, Google would without a doubt have a better idea of what that was than I would.

But this is wrong.

Below are examples of what my Ad Personalization looks like on Google and Instagram.  Thankfully, I can turn off all personalization on Google. However, Instagram and Facebook do not have that option currently.


I found it incredibly interesting to see what these social media giants knew about me. Most of us have no idea that this is happening or how to stop it. Hopefully I was able to show you something new or make you realize something. There has definitely been a lot of discussion recently on how Instagram in particular shows ads almost immediately for certain products right after talking about them or searching them up online. It’s scary to think about the idea that you’re being tracked 24/7/365. The only thing we can do is learn to stop it or let it be, there is no in between.

For those of you who don’t see this ad personalization as a negative thing,  think about what it means to have an advertiser determine your purchases. You lose complete freedom of choice. By having the advertiser personalize it’s recommendations to your “choices” it is assuming that the things you search online are the only things you like. You become trapped within a circle of choice with no way to escape or develop new interests. Here are two examples:

  • Connor goes to the book store looking for a new book to buy. He has a vague idea of what genre he’d like (Literature) but no title in particular. He seeks out an employee at the store looking for recommendations in Literature. The employee gives him a recommendation, he trusts their educated opinion, purchases the novel and reads it.
  • Cameron begins shopping for books online because he’s too lazy to go out and wants to save some money on Amazon. This isn’t Cameron’s first time buying from Amazon. Thankfully, there’s a list of recommendations in the book section. He chooses one based on his past interests and waits two days for his Prime Free Shipping to deliver his novel.

Which book is better, Connor’s or Cameron’s?

In order to fully understand the implications of the examples we need to look at it long-term. Let’s say Connor bought a new book from  a different bookstore 20 times, each time asking a staff member for a recommendation in whichever genre he felt like reading that time. Let’s also say Cameron followed his initial pattern and only shopped on Amazon, each time taking from the recommended list.

This is when ad personalization becomes a problem. By the time Connor read his 20th book his interests may have completely differed from his original novel. He would have a better sense of the books he enjoyed and an enhanced sense of autonomy in the face of choice. Cameron on the other hand would have remained in the Amazon loop. Only gaining recommendations for the same types of books, Literature, when in reality there is so much more beyond the wall of ad personalization. Where would Cameron go if he walked into a bookstore on a rainy Sunday afternoon looking for the next best novel? Chances are he’d walk immediately to the Literature section. Disregarding Poetry, Contemporary Fiction, Non-Fiction Literature, Sci-Fi and Fantasy, Thriller, Young Adult Fiction and hundreds more.

Do not fall into the loop. It’s far too easy to remain stagnant. Follow your curiosities beyond the Internet and go explore.


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