There is no such thing as a free lunch!
That sentence I remember very well from our Microeconomics class. Apart from using it in economics, I can say that this is also applicable for the use of social media. If you want to be part of a social network, you have to provide private information in return. And companies certainly know how to make use of them…
Nowadays, a business has to go different ways to promote its products or services; old-school advertising like posters, pens, cups or key-rings mostly don’t get the required attention anymore. Advertising through social media on the other hand can really make a difference. Businesses can reach a huge audience by mass advertising but it is even better when their advertising is tartgeted so they can reach a specific audience, their potential clientele. They can react to the people’s indivdidual needs and preferences by personalized advertising. How? In addition to the gathered keywords from email programs or search engines, they can create a profile based on your browsing history and by that people are classified into categories like age, gender, location, interest…
What about privacy?
The idea of personalized advertising rather made me shuddering than feeling comfortable with. I mean, isn’t it somehow creepy that your likes and dislikes are free accessible in the internet and used by companies to increase their profits? I didn’t like to use Googlemail because I knew they would scan the emails I write and receive for keywords to match with the adverts they show me. But of course I used Google as a search engine, and I knew that it was nothing else. However, scanning my emails seemed to be more an intrusion into my privacy than the words I typed into Google.
“Also, we are careful about the types of content we serve ads against. For example, Google may block certain ads from running next to an email about catastrophic news. …”
How can they manage that? They can’t always decide which emails contain devastating news for the email receiver personally. At least I don’t think computers can do that, and people don’t read the emails as Google always reassures (“Ad targeting in Gmail is fully automated, and no humans read your email …”), for more information on that go to http://mail.google.com/support/bin/answer.py?answer=6603.
Continuing with my search, I discovered some interesting ideas about personalized advertising which made me think differently about the whole issue.
Matt Kasznel, for instance, a senior journalism major, mentions some good aspects about the usage of personalized adverts. In his blog post “Personalized Internet ads: not so bad” he points out that it is better and definitely less annoying if you are shown adverts that match your interests than anything that has nothing to do with yourself or what you are doing. That’s true, right? So businesses try to “… sell you what your profile says you like.” And you might actually benefit from it.
What I still don’t like about personalized advertising is the gathering collection and keeping storage of information, it makes me feel uncomfortable to know that in some years Google or Facebook will still know what I favored back in 2011.
However, Google is now improving the system; they want to react according to user behavior. For instance, if you report an email as spam, it won’t be searched for keywords and you will not see any adverts for this email. They also make it possible for you to turn off the whole feature.
Honestly, I guess we are all glad that Facebook and Googlemail, Twitter and flickr don’t charge us for using them. They put adverts next to our pages instead and bring together companies and their target audience.