Personal Profiles Not So Personal

Joelle Nelson, News Editor

Christmas was just a few weeks ago –and the results are in. This year consumers spent more money online shopping than ever before, and for good reason. Looking up gifts for family and friends is a lot easier to do online than in store, and delivery service is speedier than ever. That ad popping up on your Google searches discounting a pair of shoes you wanted is pretty convenient too, but I believe these advertisers go too far when collecting data about potential consumers.

Everyone knows that Google tracks its users’ habits. What you might not know is just how far companies are going to obtain personal information, like what you buy, how much you spend, and even where you live.

According to the website of consumer information provider Cardlytics, this profiling is done to personalize ads. Retailers send you discounts on items they know you’ve had an eye on in an attempt to tip you over your resistance threshold and into a purchase.

Sometimes though, advertisers use your information to manipulate higher prices, and not just discounts. The Wall Street Journal discovered in 2011 that Staples had been using its shoppers data to make the price of a stapler vary, depending on where they lived, between $15 and $14.

Street Fight Magazine, San Francisco’s local marketing newsletter, lists 5 of the online tools advertisers use to get your data. Cardlytics, a company that tracks where and when you shop, where you live, and how much you spend, and sells it to interested corporations, topped the list. Their motto, according to their website, is “Every Purchase Tells a Story.”

And they are everywhere. Cardlytics serves 40 of the top 50 US restaurant chains, 63 of the top 100 US retailers, the top 7 US cable providers, and the top 4 US wireless carriers.

Corporations’ use of the Internet and social media to gather data and personalize advertising is invasive. It makes our personal lives vulnerable to clever manipulations by those simply trying to make a profit. It’s not inconceivable that they will soon be able to send us coupons based on our mood.

My personal information should stay personal.

I admit that calling social media “private” can be hypocritical. After all, the point of these sites and apps are to show people what you are doing and share general information. But most people, like me, only create a Facebook or Instagram account in order to communicate with friends and family, not strangers. The problem, though, is that social media doesn’t protect your information as well as it should.

Set your social media accounts to private. Turn off the 3rd-party cookies on your computer, which monitor your online browsing. On your iPhone, go to Settings, then Privacy, then Advertising, and turn on “Limit ad tracking” and then reset Advertising Identifier. For Androids, go to Google Settings, Ads, and then “Opt out of interest-based ads.”

Trust me, you don’t want a profile of yourself and your interests sitting in a server and used to manipulate you into buying more and more.