How Do Advertisers Know Where You’ve Been?
Advertisements have become increasingly personal and targeted as companies clamor for the quickest way to make money and find their ideal customers. In fact, advertisements have become so personal that we may be convinced that our every move, thought, and action is tracked by those looking to get us to open our wallets.
While it is untrue that everything we do is tracked, it is indeed common practice for advertisers and marketers to take advantage of our tracked cell phone geolocation data.
Have you ever popped into a store, had a look around, left, and then found an email advertisement or Facebook ad promoting the exact same store you visited earlier? For most of us, whether we know it or not, the answer is YES.
How in the world are these highly specific targeted ads finding their way into our inboxes and social media feeds?
Well, it is no secret to many that location services are a common and oftentimes vital component of the cell phones we carry with us nearly everywhere we go. If it’s not your GPS, your dating app, or your web browser, it could be as simple as your built-in weather app that revs up right upon your phone’s activation.
Say you enter that store and browse around with your weather app active. At that very moment, you open your Facebook and see an ad for that very store. What likely happened is that your geolocational data attached to your advertising ID became immediately available in something called the Bidstream. From there, marketers and advertisers affiliated with that store used your location and advertising ID to target you on Facebook, Google, and everywhere else, practically in real-time.
It is rare to give Facebook a break in terms of privacy, but here neither the advertiser nor Facebook knows exactly who you are, but rather they know your phone ID matches on Facebook and in the Bidstream at that particular time and location. Marketers can use this to advertise on Facebook the very store you’re in, stores in close proximity, and even stores, online or brick and mortar, that are similar to the one you visited.
And, it goes even deeper. Have you shopped at a similar store before? Facebook can send you three or more ads instead of one. Do you have a history of clicking and watching video ads, or do you tend to convert more on an image? That will be factored into the algorithm that spits out the advertisements as well.
Would you believe it doesn’t stop there? Well, you’d be correct! Cookies from apps such as Facebook often track you across the web and among platforms, and advertisers like to buy ad spots on many different sites and apps. That’s why you might see an Amazon ad on your news site of choice, and the same or similar ads on your Instagram, Facebook, and Candy Crush game. With your advertising ID they can reach you regardless of the platform.
On top of this, telecom companies such as Verizon, AT&T, and Mobilewalla partake in the questionable practice of Bidstream surveillance. They compile your geolocational data, SIDs, IP address, and more from the Bidstream over time, identifying patterns in your behavior, and then re-sell those insights to interested advertisers. It is valuable to know where you are, but it is even more valuable to know where you are, where you’ve been, and where you might go.
Your data is a major commodity for marketers, advertisers, and social media companies. Geolocation data monitored and bought from the Bidstream and re-sold compiled data over time are just a few of the ways your privacy can be violated without you knowing.