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November 2022 | by Megan Holcombe, Conner Downard
We’ve all experienced it.
We search for something online, or visit a product page, and for the next week we can’t escape online ads of related content or products.
Some may find this unnerving. We wonder, “what do online advertisers know about me?” The good news is, you have control over how online advertisers track your behavior and store your information.
First, let’s look at the basics of online advertising data, which can be broken down into two distinct groups: platform and third party.
Your activity on platforms like Facebook and Google are some of the best ways for advertisers to learn about you. For political or advocacy campaigns with a direct response call-to-action, like a donation, email acquisition, or contacting your legislator, Facebook is where advertisers look first, because of Facebook’s large amount of users’ political data, and the overall strength of its targeting.
Facebook is also the home of lookalike audiences. To form a lookalike audience, Facebook takes details of users who have already been targeted for a specific campaign, and then matches other users who are similar to them in terms of content they’ve engaged with, geography, etc. and then target them. That means that even if an advertiser doesn’t know for sure if you will respond well to their campaign, they can take a chance on targeting you because of your similarities to their current audience.
These platforms are also used by advertisers for remarketing. That Amazon product you’ve viewed but haven’t yet pulled the trigger on buying yet? That’s where remarketing comes in. Platforms like Facebook and Google will show you ads from other brands who know that you’ve expressed an interest in their product, but have yet to buy. That means you’ll be chased with ads as a friendly reminder of how much you want that new mixer for your kitchen. It should be noted that Google does not allow remarketing for political advertisers.
Third party data is defined as not belonging to platforms like Facebook and Google, which can be purchased by advertisers independently for online campaigns.
While Facebook allows for third party targeting for any advertiser, Google allows it for all advertisers except political. This third party data is used to identify political affiliations, as well as physical addresses of users.
Third party data can be a good resource for advertisers who have a specialized need for data that cannot be met by the traditional platforms.
The knowledge of how much online advertisers know about us can be a surprise. So, if you’re curious about your own personal data, there are steps you can take to learn more – and even take control about how much of your data advertisers possess.
The BlueKai registry allows you to view your data, as well as delete your data by opting out. And by visiting your Google Ad Settings, you can view specific categories of interest that Google has collected on you. Google Ad Settings allows you to turn off specific targeting categories, or turn off your ad personalization altogether.
You can see what kind of data Facebook has on you by looking at your Ad Preference page. On your Ad Preference page, you can see your interests Facebook has collected based on your activity on Facebook, as well as see advertisers who may be targeting you based on visiting their website. You can customize your ad preferences to see fewer ads on specific categories and topics.
Armed with this knowledge of online advertising and targeting, you can begin to make more conscious decisions about how much you share, and on which platforms. Advertisers do know a lot about you, but there are protections in place to ensure your personal privacy is a priority. Plus, you know you want that mixer on Amazon – so targeted ads are just helping you get what you want.
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