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You’re being targeted on social media (and it’s not a bad thing)

There’s a reason that social media sites are free to use. They want you on there because, as much as we hate to accept it, we’re the product. They’re selling us. While many believe this is an egregious invasion of privacy, there are a few silver linings to consider.

Targeted Customer

First and foremost, it’s not exactly our data that’s being “sold” to businesses. Unlike many agencies and organizations that actively sell our personal information to other companies, social media sites like Facebook and Twitter don’t sell our direct information. They sell access to us through targeting. While it’s still challenging for many people to accept as anything positive when our personal information is used to place ads in front of us, there are worse things that could happen. Here are some of them:

 

They could sell our data directly

If you look closely at the terms of service of most social networks, you’ll see that there is wording in there obscure enough to allow for direct selling of our personal information. They aren’t required to keep it private, but for the most part they do.

Here’s how targeting works in most cases. A company loads up a list of email addresses. These are usually opt-in, but even if they’re not, it’s okay because the upload is a matching system rather than a direct play. In other words, they only get to see how many people they can target rather than the actual individuals. If a company uploads 10,000 email addresses, social sites like Facebook cross-reference the list against their member database and turn that into a number, usually somewhere between 10%-40% of the original list. That list becomes a custom audience and the businesses can then target those Facebook users with ads in their timeline.

Clearly, this isn’t what privacy advocates want, but it’s far from their biggest concern on an internet that is loaded with data breaches and spam across the board.

 

They could charge

If you were to ask users of social media sites whether or not they would be willing to pay for their accounts on social media, the vast majority would say no. Many of those who would say yes wouldn’t actually pay if it came down to it.

The reason that social media became so large in the first place is because it’s very little hassle and zero cost to the user. We might think that a premium model would work, but it just isn’t practical to believe that. The reality is that we’re used to our social networks being free and the ads make it so.

 

They could serve irrelevant ads

Most websites that you visit serve one of two types of ads. One is the generic ad, the one that is not targeted at all other than being on the right website that has the best chance of drawing in a visitor. This is hard because the targeting is based upon assumptions of interest that don’t always pan out. Just because someone visits a sports blog doesn’t mean that they’re interested in buying jerseys.

The other common type of ad is the retargeted ad. This is as much of an invasion of privacy as social media ads because they’re served based upon the websites you’ve visited lately. Those of us who do not use adblock have been “stalked” by ads before. We visit a website, then suddenly and persistently we see ads pop up for that website on many of the sites we visit.

Social media targeting allows people to see the ads that could be of potential interest to them.

“We put car ads in front of people who have indicated they’re in the market for a car,” said Tyson Madliger, CEO of Dealer Authority. “Automotive social media is all about proper targeting, so we don’t want to put a Hyundai Sonata ad in front of people who are looking to buy a Ford truck or who aren’t in the market to buy a car at all.”

While most people hate the idea that they’re being tracked, there’s something that can be said about the mild tracking that social media sites do. Don’t get me wrong – a big part of me would like to see the tracking, the ads, and the sharing of personal data completely abolished from these sites, but that’s just not practical. When considering the above alternatives to the problem, I’m happy with seeing ads from Dollar Shave Club every time I hit my Facebook news feed.

Targeting Customers” image courtesy of Shutterstock.

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