Picture this: You’re sitting at home on a Sunday morning, drinking coffee on the couch and your dog is snoring slightly on the ground below your feet. You suddenly get the idea that you need a new pair of sunglasses because despite the freezing cold rain outside at the moment, summer is only a few short months away and there’s NO WAY you are going to go to the beach wearing your old, scratched up pair that you have now. So, naturally, you go to Google, type in the key word “sunglasses” and you’re off on your search for the perfect pair. You settle on a pair of aviators from Ray Ban and close your browser, deciding to wait until your next paycheck to order them. Later in the day, you open Google again to search for a recipe that your friend told you about yesterday and all of the sudden, sunglasses are EVERYWHERE in your browser. They’re in the header of the webpage you’re on, they’re showing up on your Instagram feed, they’re in the sidebar of Facebook, and now you are finding yourself baffled at how your phone knew exactly which pair you decided on and why it is all the sudden showing you so many ads for sunglasses. You feel like you’re being watched, like this is a bad nightmare and you’re trapped in a modern day version of George Orwell’s 1984. But no, don’t be so dramatic. Companies are just tracking your web browser history in order to target specific ads towards you. No biggie, right?
This form of digital marketing has become very prominent among businesses and it seems like we just can’t get away from them. Oftentimes, consumers can feel invaded by these advertisements as it is somewhat of a break in our privacy. However, this technique has been very effective across multiple audiences. When a consumer is looking into buying something, whether it may be sunglasses as stated above or something more essential, if they continue to see ads for it on every webpage they visit in a day, they will be more inclined to click the ad and follow through with their purchase. But, in some instances, one will simply google something once for searching purposes and not for the purpose of actually purchasing the items and will see ads for days about that particular item, which can be a nuisance and seem a little pushy, which can offset a lot of consumers from purchasing anything at all.
Though this is a very effective way to advertise for some companies, there are some instances in which it can be a bad thing. A few years back in 2012, a news story came out about a young teen who was searching the web for baby-related materials because she feared that she was pregnant. Target tracked her search history and followed the patterns of her searches that correlated to searches of pregnant women and she began to see ads for all of these items for expecting mothers. Not only did she see online ads, but coupons were also being sent to her house for baby-specific items. Her father soon found these coupons in their mail under her name and found out that she was pregnant through this discovery. This is just one of many examples of how this advancement in technology can affect people negatively. Luckily, there are ways that an individual can turn off this capability for companies and web addresses to track your search history. By surfing the web incognito or in “privacy mode,” one can avoid obtaining a search history and therefore their surfing patterns will not be able to be tracked.
Though our world is not quite as “Big-Brother-esque” as the world in 1984, with each day that passes, technology becomes more and more integrated in our everyday lives. Our privacy is becoming increasingly nonexistent in everything that we do, and though this form of digital marketing is not unbearably invasive, what should we expect next?