By: Jonathan Schultz
It is in the mind of a lot of consumers these days that if you’re not reading a newspaper or magazine or watching live TV you don’t really have to worry about ads anymore. With your DVR and your streaming services, getting soaked in commercials is a thing of the past, right?
With consumers migrating by and large to digital technologies like smartphones and tablets and giving most of their “readership” (if you can even call it that) to the Internet, it really isn’t much of a surprise that advertisers are following suit. However, the nature of the relationship between advertiser and audience has taken on a new form, and not what the celebrants of the Digital Age are likely to expect.
Most people believe that the Internet is an eternal flame of democracy and liberation from commercial forces, where you can get anything for free and you are ensured an endless level of anonymity to do with what you will.
Again, not quite.
What the Internet has done is invert the relationship between advertisers and audience members so that advertisers have even more power than they did before. Back in the good old Mad Men days of advertising that we are all still so fond yet overly nostalgic of, it was up to the advertiser to try to figure out what consumers were reading and watching, and then place their ads in the most effective media spots.
Now, advertisers are able to track your every move through your Web traffic and tailor advertisements to your personal experience. For instance, the Android smartphone, which holds the most market share of the smartphone market, “permits cookie dropping, and companies can track the unique IDs of devices running the mobile operating system, said Sephi Shapira, CEO of MassiveImpact, a mobile ad network” (Peterson, 2012). Shapira calls tracking Android users’ activities a “nonissue” (Peterson, 2012).
For a long time, iPhone users were largely protected from this type of advertising. While Apple customers had their activity tracked by unique device identifiers, or UIUDs, “it once turned away apps that wanted to access UIUDs for advertising” (Peterson, 2012).
That is not the case anymore, as the release of iOS 6, the latest iteration of the iPhone mobile operating system, saw the introduction of the Advertising Identifier, a new “privacy-aware, device-level identifier that could be used to target ads” and leave tracking cookies on a user’s device (Peterson, 2012).
It’s not just tech giants that are getting in on the mobile advertising action. “In September, [Facebook] said it would begin testing a third-party mobile ad network that would let brands target users of non-Facebook apps according to those users’ Facebook data” (Peterson, 2012).
Data tracking on the Web to treat advertisers is nothing new. The information giant Google has been setting the standard for tracking its users with the serious vantage point it has as the world’s leading search engine: “a whopping 96% of Google’s $37.9 billion 2011 revenue came from advertising” (Kelly, 2012).
There’s a lot of money to be made in handing your information over to advertisers, and that means Google gives advertisers permission to follow you around without too many road blocks. “Behavioral advertising, which Google jumped into last year… relies on a vast ad network across many sites, and the ads record a visitor’s unique cookie… This works well as a general ad targeting mechanism” (Anderson, 2012).
It’s as Robert McChesney, communication professor at the University of Illinois and co-founder of Free Press, always says: “If you’re getting something for free, you’re not the customer – you’re the product” (2012).