What does targeted advertising mean for users’ safety?

Photo Illustration by Alex Gross ’24

For centuries sellers have molded their products to what might pique their customers’ interest the most, but what hasn’t been around for centuries is the data that websites and online browsers use from consumers’ history to display ads that attract buyers.

Targeted advertising is a technique that online retailers and suppliers use to advertise by saving information from the content that a customer has viewed in the past, allowing the customer to see ads for products they are most likely to buy.  

This sounds like a great idea for those wishing to sell their products to an intended audience, but this should sound alarms for all internet users. Just last year, the Federal Trade Commission forced Twitter to pay a $150 million fine for using account security data to target certain users with specific ads.

Not only do internet users have to read the fine lines of how their data is being used in certain agreements, but major companies are breaking the rules of their own agreements that they made. 

The Federal Trade Commission said that Twitter obtained users’ data by asking for phone numbers or email accounts to secure their Twitter accounts, but Twitter instead breached the security of its users by matching data already obtained from phone numbers and email addresses to display targeted advertising.

According to the Pew Research Center, six out of ten Americans said that it isn’t possible for them to go through their daily lives without companies or the government collecting their personal data and information. The same study mentions that out of all Americans that read privacy policies before accepting them, only 22% read those policies all the way through before accepting the terms and conditions. 

It is important for every user to read these agreements because even if your data is just being used to tailor certain ads that might be relevant, that information can be sold elsewhere for other purposes. 

Luckily for online consumers that are unaware of how their personal information is being used, the American Data Privacy and Protection Act (ADPPA) passed in 2022 regulates how companies are allowed to treat their users’ data. 

The online landscape is constantly changing and increasing in its domain, so users must understand the capabilities of what the internet can do in order to keep their information safe and protected.