I’m attending my high school reunion in a few weeks and I need a fabulous dress. So I’ve been spending time on various retailer sites to find the perfect outfit. Of course I visited Nordstrom.com and found some great dresses, including a stunning, little, black dress by Ralph Lauren. Imagine my surprise when I clicked over to Facebook.com and found a Nordstrom ad that featured the very dress I was looking at. I shrugged it off as coincidence; what retailer doesn’t advertise its fabulous black dresses?
A couple of days later, I found a gorgeous, purple dress on Nordstrom.com. Again, a Nordstrom ad on Facebook featured the exact same dress. Okay, now this can’t be coincidence. Purple, really? I had read about Facebook sharing cookies with retailers but I needed more info. We Facebook users have known for a while that any information we give to the social network can be used to send us targeted advertising. For a while, I was getting ads based on my age. Then I noticed that even my posts seemed to be getting indexed; I mentioned Downtown Abbey in a post; next thing I know, I’m getting an ad for a Downton Abbey-themed trip to England. It seems that earlier this year, Facebook branched out and expanded it advertising capabilities by merging its own data with data from third parties.
- Earlier this year, Facebook announced deals with Datalogix, Epsilon and Acxiom, consumer data companies, or companies that track consumer purchasing data from rewards cards, among other things. Facebook users are matched with data from these companies so that Facebook can present targeted ads. For example, if my Giant rewards card shows that I buy a lot of diapers, Facebook might show me ads for more diapers or other baby products.
- Through a partnership with BlueKai, retailers can add code to their websites to set cookies that Facebook can read. The cookies tell Facebook what you were looking at on the retailer site, for example, and display targeted ads based on your previous viewing history. (Aha! I bet this is what Nordstrom is using.)
- Last Fall, Facebook invited retailers to submit the email addresses of its customers. Facebook matched the emails against its database and then displayed ads on behalf of the retailers.
We all know this is going to get a lot worse. Facebook already knows who our friends area, where we go, what we watch, what we eat, who we love. If you’re creeped out by all this, what can you do?
- My friend and privacy expert Shaun Dakin recommends Abine, which lets you create disposable email addresses, phone numbers, and credit cards so that Facebook and retailers can’t match you based on your personal information.
- Matrix Group Network Administrator Rich Frangiamore recommends Ghostery, which is a browser plug-in that tells you about all the tracking elements on web pages that you visit. Ghostery also lets you block specific scripts.
- I like to browse in incognito mode in Chrome. When I do this, any cookies saved in my browser are deleted when I close my windows and pages I visit aren’t recorded in my browser history.
The thing about targeted ads is this: sometimes they feel creepy and an invasion of my privacy, while other times, I am grateful for the spot-on recommendations. I guess the trick for advertisers is to find the right balance so that customers like me welcome the personalization. What do you think of all this targeted advertising?