Behavioural Advertising – Not an Exact Science

We have a love/hate view of behavioural advertising (tracking and targeting of individuals’ web activities, across sites and over time, in order to serve advertisements that are tailored to those individuals’ inferred interests).

On the one hand, if we are going to be served up ads on the web, it is better (for both viewers and advertisers) to be served ads that are relevant to the viewer’s interests. On the other hand, it can be rather creepy to think we are being tracked, especially if there are profiles of us being stored somewhere, and especially if those profiles contain information that is inaccurate, or show interests that for whatever reason we don’t want to broadcast. There are of course privacy implications to behavioural advertising, which are discussed in detail in this Policy Position on Online Behavioural Advertising guideline published by the Canadian Privacy Commissioner.

I’ve noticed lately that my work surfing habits have resulted in some ads that I was initially puzzled at, and don’t always reflect my buying interests, but make sense in terms of the web sites I’ve visited. You may have encountered this too. The algorithms presume that we are personally interested in the sites we go to, what we look at on those sites, and what we buy on those sites. That is at best an educated guess. Our work web surfing may include some personal surfing, but for the most part we look at sites that are work tools (such as research sites or databases), social media, client sites, or sites of those adverse in interest to clients.

Recently I have been getting a lot of ads for a particular web development business. I’m not in the market to buy their services, but I’ve visited their site because they are a client.

I have also been getting a particular ad for prepaid funeral services, which shows up too often to be random. After a brief conspiracy theory moment (do they know something about my health that I don’t?) I realized that it was a result of looking at some obituary / funeral home sites for a client.

Wondering what unusual / amusing / puzzling ads readers have encountered based on their web surfing history?


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