Targeted Ads Are Real And There’s No Escaping Them

By Elizabeth Simpson
The Virginian-Pilot.

Do you ever feel like there’s a disconnect between your cyber self and the real you?

I’ve had that sensation recently, after letting my hair go its natural shade, which — who knew — turns out to be white. I was going for a salt-and-pepper look, but you don’t get to choose.

Sooner or later, I had to align my social media profile with the real me.

I’m not particularly adept at social media. Apparently, being social helps. I found out the hard way you can’t change your profile photo on Facebook without it appearing prominently in people’s news feeds.

No sneaking the photo in with a quick, “Nothing to see here, folks, move along. I’m just as young as ever, really!”
I had to admit, yes, I’ve been living a lie.

Thankfully, my “friends” are mostly real, live friends, so everyone was gracious.

The machine behind Facebook … not so much.

Suddenly Olay anti-aging ads were popping up.

Wait a minute, what’s this ad for “Making under-eye bags disappear in less than two minutes!”

Now my back was up, as I mourned the loss of my L’Oreal-6A-light-ash-brown self.

Hmm. Am I imagining this, or is something nefarious up?

Turns out a bit of both, with the world of targeted ads playing on my psyche.

We’re constantly being tracked through social media and our Internet browsing habits for such innocuous details as age, marital status, where we live, recent life events, education level and dog ownership, so companies can pitch their wares to us.

If you “like” certain things on Facebook — or follow, say, “dachshundlove” on Twitter — watch out. You could soon be watching hours of short-legged, floppy-eared dog videos. (They are kind of cute.)

And even if you don’t “like” things and only share bare scraps about yourself, an amazing algorithm god uses your friends’ data to place you in a logical demographic.

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