Online Ad Targeting

Have you ever visited a website or viewed a product and a few minutes later seen an ad on another website promoting what you had just seen? This type of advertising is called online ad targeting. But how do sites know what you’re viewing and when to advertise certain products. The process begins when you’re either on a website or shopping and your browser submits information about your activity to third party advertisers. The information is then store within a browser cookie which often times the website asks your permission to store. Once the you switch to another site that uses the same third party advertiser an ad with the product you just viewed will pop up in hopes that you will return back to the original site.

Now that a broad overview of the process is established let’s examine specifically what third party advertisers need to send you tailored ads. First there is click stream data which includes the cookies that sites use to keep track of users’ history. There are two types of cookies first-party cookies, which are cookies that are sent by the site itself, and third-party cookies, which are cookies that the site gives to other advertising companies. An example of a third party advertising company is DoubleClick which can use cookies to maintain a in depth history of people’s browsing habits. Another part of knowing users browsing habits can be through web browsers themselves. Search engines such as Google, Yahoo, and MSN have all entered the advertising market because of the sheer amount of user data they possess. Lastly the most common type of data third party advertisers use can be extracted through social media profiles. Companies such as Facebook or Instagram possess millions of active users complete with a history of likes and interests that advertisers exploit to send targeted ads.

However there is a question around personal privacy and whether these ads are considered an invasion of users’ online history or information. The controversy revolves around third party cookies and the amount of information companies can compile from them. Critics say that these cookies are unethical because they can document a user’s entire browsing history. But it should be considered that ad revenue is the main reason why many websites are able to offer free access. Additionally advertisers are very cautious in terms of personal privacy due to the sensitivity of personal information. Lastly cookies can always be disable on sites that you are uncomfortable with documenting your information.

-Allen Shen


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