The Wall Street Journal has been running a series of articles on the data-harvesting and target-advertising industries and the tracking ecosphere: it’s called, somewhat ominously, What They Know. Part of what they know, of course, is what we deliberately share, but a great deal of it is deduced by combining what we share with the unintended tracks we leave through our browsing and purchasing behavior.
Most people are far less integrated in their identity than the assumptions of tracking companies and social-media companies like Facebook allow for. By fusing behavior from different aspects of a person’s personality and making recommendations or targeting ads accordingly, they can prompt some uncomfortable or embarrassing collisions, and at the same time, they supply a material, external basis for the diminishing of the self, of a reduction of one’s messy and complicated being to a neat, computer-assisted synthesis. These companies hold up a mirror that shrinks us and encourages us to become what we see there, a coherent bundle of consumer desires.
A recent development, explained in the latest What They Know piece by Jessica Vascellaro, is that TV advertisers are seeking to retrofit the tracking technologies being perfected online to better target commercials to viewers. Ideally they would be able to show different commercials to different viewers during the same commercial break the way that a website can display different ads according to the information in your browser cookies and so on.
Some in the industry want “rifle-shot targeting,” Mr. Morgan says, where people get “only those ads they care about.” That’s still well in the future, Mr. Morgan says.
I like how the targeting metaphor has been carried one step further to really hammer home how advertisers few us as prey, and would like to line us up in their sites to blow us apart with a perfectly aimed shell. Take that, Laura Archera Huxley!
The tracking methods involve data collected from DVRs and cable boxes; reading through Vascellaro’s summary serves as a pertinent reminder that anytime you choose something on a digital network, no matter how banal or insignificant it may seem, it is tracked, and no devices are exempt.
Given a year of viewing data, Simulmedia can almost perfectly predict around 70% of what types of shows a given set-top box is likely to be tuned to, and when, Mr. Morgan says. He likens the process to helping advertisers “choke the shotgun blast and bring it in close,” rather than scattering their ad messages widely.
Lovely. Sort of gives the lie to the pretense that advertisers are on our side, trying to help us find things we want. No, they are eager to “blast” us apart with a point-blank gut shot. I wonder whether the ad execs fear getting arterial spray on their suits.