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  • Have you ever been window shopping?

  • Just looking in the windows of stores...browsing?

  • Did anything from the store ever just...follow you around?

  • You're browsing for a new hat and see one you like, but pass it by.

  • Then in the video game store next door the hat is just...sitting on the shelf?

  • And in the clothing store after that.

  • Looking at you.

  • Following you.

  • Last episode we talked about advertising, and the long history of techniques for getting

  • us to buy things.

  • In today's episode, we're looking at what happens when those techniques move online,

  • where you might be followed much more than you think.

  • In the olden days, before online shopping, stores didn't know what you were looking at.

  • They couldn't track your shopping habits and then place advertisements for stuff you

  • like wherever your went.

  • Hats were just hats; they couldn't follow you around.

  • Traditional advertisements were contextual, they were put in specific placesor contexts

  • where advertisers expected people to be.

  • Commercials during must-see TV, billboards along traffic-filled highways, pages in popular

  • magazines.

  • Places with lots of eyes and people with nothing else to do.

  • Advertisers had to jam all of the persuasive techniques and logical fallacies they could

  • into expensive ads, and then HOPE the right people would see.

  • But that was before the internet.

  • And smartphones.

  • And social media.

  • And geolocation and cookies and pop-up ads and ad blockers and

  • Yeah.

  • It's about to get scary.

  • [Theme Music]

  • Old-timey advertisers didn't know who would see their ads, and they also didn't really

  • know how well they were doing.

  • Put up an ad for soda right by a high school, and maybe they'd have a rough idea of who

  • walked by it everyday.

  • But they wouldn't know how many kids actually bought soda.

  • It wasn't a total guessing game, but it wasn't a science, either.

  • Because of this, advertisers targeted different groups of people, or demographics: teenagers,

  • older men and women, business professionals, families, white people, black people, Asian people.

  • Still, these groups are pretty broad.

  • You could place an ad with a TV show that drew mostly female viewers or a radio program

  • that had mostly teen listeners, but you couldn't get too specific.

  • So, ads had to be broad, too, and the products being sold were incentivized to be one-size

  • fits all.

  • Anything too niche for a wide audience couldn't afford to spend money on big, broad advertising.

  • Since the birth of mass media, advertisers have been looking for better ways to do this,

  • to make sure their ads hit just the right people.

  • Enter: the internet.

  • In the early days of the internet, the ad world, was still just like print or TV advertising.

  • Ads were created to reach as broad an audience as possible.

  • First came display adsand like print ads, they'd just sit there on your screen.

  • And quickly advertisers tried to gussy these up: pop-ups (the worst) and animated ads.

  • Everything to get attention.

  • But the real innovation was turning ads into links.

  • What happens when an Ad is a Link?

  • It's convenient.

  • See an ad for a hat.

  • Click.

  • Bamyou're at hatstore.com.

  • But that also means hatstore.com can COUNT how many times that link was clicked.

  • Advertisers no longer had to estimate how many eyes saw their ads or what they did in

  • response.

  • And for a while, the click-through was an unstoppable measurement tool.

  • This brings us to: the web cookie, which made these ads even stronger.

  • Cookies are like little breadcrumbs that websites and apps place on your device.

  • They follow you around the web and report back on your habits.

  • Suddenly advertisers could track who was clicking on those ads and where they'd go next.

  • Did they browse the site?

  • Did they download a coupon?

  • Did they – [gasp] – buy something??

  • They could figure out who those viewers were, their shopping habits, and even what their

  • life was like.

  • Pre-cookie, advertisers put their targetsthat's youin pretty broad demographic

  • buckets, but now they could narrow that immensely.

  • Ads can target just 18-24 year old women with an interest in science who live in Brazil

  • or 34-45 year old men who like soccer in Canada.

  • This is called addressable advertising, sometimes referred to as behavioral targeting.

  • Take a look around this video.

  • Are you seeing any ads?

  • If so, are they things you're interested in?

  • That might be because YouTube is using cookies to display what it thinks you want to see.

  • Your recommended videos work that way, too.

  • Every time you use your phone or computer, you're leaving data breadcrumb trails.

  • The websites you visit log your IP address a unique set of numbers used to identify your

  • computer as you browse the web.

  • There are other kinds of unique identifiers, too.

  • They can track what kind of device you're using, where you are, how fast your internet

  • is, who else you follow.

  • All kinds of stuff.

  • You may be thinking, “Isn't getting better music recommendations and seeing actually

  • relevant ads worth a few cookie crumbs?”

  • The problem is, the websites and apps you do trust to use your data trails don't keep

  • it to themselves.

  • Let's take a deeper look at this in the Thought Bubble.

  • When you open up a new app or website, or login to a social network, you'll often

  • come across some Terms and Conditions.

  • Sometimes they're called Terms of Service.

  • These are the rules of the road.

  • The company is telling you what you can and can't do in the applike use it to commit

  • a crime, or share stolen work.

  • But they're also telling you what they will and won't do.

  • Most of the time when we create a new account like this, we just check the box to accept

  • the terms and conditions and move on.

  • But companies know we don't read those ridiculous documents.

  • Research even shows it would take us 25 days each year to read all the things we agree

  • to.

  • So, more often than not, we're actually consenting to a lot of stuff we probably wouldn't

  • if we actually read the darn thing.

  • For example: Instagram.

  • You think you're using an app to share photos with friends and chat with them.

  • The app's Terms of Use say:

  • You can't post sexually explicit, violent, hateful, or discriminatory things on Instagram.

  • You can't steal someone else's login, or use your account for illegal purposes.

  • They have a right to kick you out if you break the rules, like spamming or threatening others

  • or stealing someone else's photos.

  • Ok, that makes sense.

  • But their Terms of Use also say

  • If they do want to kick you out, they can do so without warning.

  • And afterwards all of your photos and data and comments will no longer be accessible

  • through your account.

  • Despite their Community guidelines, they say they have no official obligation to take down

  • any Instagram content.

  • They don't own your content, but you DO grant them a “non-exclusive, fully paid

  • and royalty-free, transferable, sub-licensable, worldwide licenseto use your content.

  • In other words, they could use your photos however they want, including selling them

  • to third parties.

  • Doing so would be a big breach of trust, so they probably wouldn't.

  • But they could.

  • They use analytics tools that collect information sent by your device, including the web pages

  • you visit.

  • And they may usedevice identifierson your phone to track your browsing habits

  • to serve you personalized content or ads.

  • With Instagram or any app you use, with the right clause hidden in all that legal jargon,

  • your info can be sold to third parties, over and over again.

  • Then, advertisers can sell you more, better targeted ads.

  • So when you absent mindedly check the box to accept god-knows-what terms and conditions,

  • you're often also signing away your right to privacy.

  • Right now, that info mainly goes to advertisers, but you can see how our ambivalent attitude

  • around privacy could make us vulnerable to bad actors.

  • Or, say foreign influence on things like...you know...presidential elections.

  • Thanks, Thought Bubble.

  • Data tracking isn't just used to serve you personalized ads, either.

  • It can actually determine what kind of content you see elsewhere.

  • When we browse Amazon or Netflix, they provide us with suggestions based on stuff we've

  • already seen.

  • These recommendation engines, in a way, are advertisements.

  • It's showing you one show or product over another and, by extension, hiding others.

  • The companies that use them certainly say they're just being helpful.

  • But these can actually limit our options, and keep us boxed into the things big corporations

  • want us to see.

  • There are many different kinds of these low-key ads.

  • But two really common ones are easy to overlook.

  • The first is sponsored content.

  • Sponsored content can mean anything from an Instagram post to a documentary, that an advertiser

  • paid to make and publish.

  • It may not be obviously selling anythinglike an article about taking care of your car,

  • but paid for by a car company with its logo at the top.

  • Or it's that weird list of outlandish, tabloid-y articles at the bottom of a more reputable

  • sitelikeyou'll never believe how they diedwith a picture of a celebrity

  • who is definitely alive.

  • These are particularly hard to pick out, because publishers like your favorite magazines and

  • websites, will place them alongside their own original stuff, the editorial content,

  • so they blend in.

  • First: Learn to distinguish between ads and non-commercial information.

  • Look for phrases likesponsored content” “native content” “advertorialor

  • presented by brand name here.”

  • Celebrities and media creators may say they'repartneringwith a brandthat means

  • they've getting money to promote that brand.