26 Apr You

Many years ago, Google had a fun feature that tried to predict your age, gender, race and interests based on your search history. The technology at the time wasn’t particularly refined so unless your online activity closely aligned with stereotypical assumptions about your demographic, the final results were often incorrect. The feature also didn’t account for the myriad of complex identities that make up the modern anthropological landscape.

As time has passed, Google and advertisers of all stripes have perfected the ability to determine who you are and what kind of content you may want to see or buy. How do they accomplish this? The same way they always have. By analyzing your browsing and search history, social media usage, and general online activity. The difference is, the tools for tracking and assessing this data have become more sophisticated and thus, more accurate and useful.

When you visit a website, there’s much more going on than what you can see with the naked eye. On many websites, programs are running in the background to track your behavior, and with enough information, identify who you are. More specifically, the scripts or cookies that are logging your online activity are attempting to identify your unique device. Based on your distinctive online behavior, these programs then attempt to identify when you are using the device so they can personalize their digital marketing for you.

The ability of advertisers to track and identify you when you’re online is pretty unsettling, but it also adds an ease to your online experience that couldn’t be cultivated without these programs. There’s much debate about the ethical dilemma of this kind of advantageously personalized, yet questionably intrusive practice. As a matter of fact, every day seems to offer an example of a digital giant reaping the rewards or facing the consequences of tracking users. For now, both marketers and consumers are taking the risk for a more valuable, personal online experience.

Bruce Freides