How Commercial Targeting Invades Your Privacy

This article explores into detail how commercial targeting works by invading in your privacy and treating you as a product rather than a person. Know how it works, how your personal data is collected and what tools are available so that you can protect your personal information from these prying eyes.

Online advertising is designed to help both advertisers and consumers. For instance, traditional marketing had relied on newspapers and magazines to get promotional messages across. Now, digital marketers explore the opportunities supplied by digital media. Hence, marketers can quickly build brand awareness on a local or even a global scale. Thanks to fast-paced marketing, people might know about products and services thousands of miles away.

However, advertisers use advanced technologies to ensure that their ads make it to the right people (targeted audience). They use analytic tools to find out which users are interested in specific products. Have you ever wondered why one Google search can affect the ads you see on social media for the rest of the week or month? That is just how the marketing wheel spins. Unfortunately, not all people want to receive personalized offers. They treat it as a privacy violation as marketers appear to have knowledge of their previous online activities. Find out how commercial targeting works and how you might stop it from affecting you.

How does it work?

Well, things are much simpler than you think. Companies worldwide have access to users' browsing patterns and most other online activities that generate data. They use these bits of information you leave behind to get a better idea of what you like and look for on the internet. The idea is to connect the right ads with the right customers – a practice called targeted advertising. While some people find this practice helpful, many see it as an intrusion of privacy. 3 out of 4 consumers say that they have a problem with online tracking. The original idea might be positive and based on good intentions, but how do we know that our data isn't sold and used by other companies and organizations?

Most websites include a privacy policy. It's that long document you just click "I agree" to enter a website or order online. The tracking is usually done using cookies, which are tiny files downloaded from the website to your device.

Every time you come back to the website, the server identifies the cookies you saved, immediately knowing who you are. Well, they don't know your name and other personal information, but they do know where you come from, what you do on their website, and what type of products you purchase online.

Ad-tech companies don't have direct access to your personal information, but they can scan your device to see which types of websites you visit, what search terms you use, and what kind of ads you click. All of this information is then used to make sure that you get the ads that appeal to you and not get the ones you're not interested in. The idea is to make you spend money more on items you didn't even know exist.

How does it make you spend more money?

You might be thinking that you're one of those people who don't click on ads. So, companies can't do anything to make you spend more money. While you might be right, you should also be aware of the fact that ads are designed to stay in your memory long after you first see them. Ads can work as a subtle push to change your perceptions, like desiring to get a product even if you do not have an immediate need for it. They plant an idea in your head and wait until you change your mind about purchasing something. After all, the entire industry is run by multi-billion-dollar companies who surely know what they are doing.

Brand-name products

Most popular brands have all the money they need for advertising across traditional and online platforms. They spend billions of dollars every year to appear on thousands of Facebook pages, websites, TV stations, and so on.

Sure, you see their ads all the time and don't buy anything, but don't be fooled. The next time you want to buy something, let's say a pair of sneakers, the first name you will think of will be the one you saw in ads everywhere. So, no matter how hard you try to go against the tides, you are susceptible to ads, whether you like it or not. Why do you think companies spend millions of dollars on a single Super Bowl ad? It's because it works.

What can you do to stop it?

Sadly, the only way to stop companies and websites from knowing what you do online is to forget about the internet altogether. Just kidding, there are a few things you can do.

1. Block ads

If you want to stop feeling creeped out when Google keeps presenting you ads of stuff you mentioned out loud earlier during the day, install ad-blockers and ignore the ads altogether. Do the same on all popular social media as well as browsers.

2. Get a VPN

VPN stands for a Virtual Private Network, and it does a great job at protecting your online privacy. Atlas VPN is one of the most popular choices right now because it helps you protect your sensitive information by encrypting your connection, making it impossible for others to track your online activities. Since your web traffic will be encrypted, marketers won't be able to monetize it. A VPN is a well-known tool to boost your digital privacy. Hence, you should definitely look into the options available.

3. Tor

Tor is an internet browser used by people who value their online privacy. It uses the so-called "onion" technology, which means that every online connection is made through multiple devices. Your device connects to another one in a different country, then another on the other side of the world, and finally, the internet. You will appear as some random user from who knows where, and companies won't be able to track you down.

The Bottom Line

Online tracking is the backbone of the internet, and it won't stop anytime soon. If you value your privacy and don't want to share your online habits with ad companies, you should either get a VPN to protect yourself or use private browsers such as Tor. Just remember that you won't see any ads, even those you might like.


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