The Problems with “User Interest” Targeted Ads

I’ve always had an issue with the validity of internet advertisements targeted to a user’s “interests”. Google’s Adsense platform is a huge perpetrator of this method because they can use your search history to deliver ads you will hypothetically be interested in on third party websites using Adsense content ads. The method may work better or worse depending on the site your on in terms of generating revenue, but I’m definitely not fan.

Working Against Maximum Revenue
When I was creating content websites and using Adsense as my monetization method, I always turned off the “show ads based on user interest categories” option. It made perfect sense for the sites I was building because they were product based. If a visitor was on my site about power inverters, but had a heavy search history in children’s toys, less costly toy ads may have been shown. Not only are the ads irrelevant to the content the user is actively looking for, but they are irrelevant to the theme of the site overall.

Privacy Issues
From a user’s perspective, people are concerned about the privacy issues of user tracking. Companies like Google have a whole data set categorizing each user’s interests and who knows what else. When used in a friendly manner, it’s no big deal…but as we should learn from all the recent corporations getting hacked by various groups, data can be stolen (or manipulated, or sold, or used in countless inappropriate ways).

Combating these privacy issues is the main feature of a new crop of websites that don’t track your activities, like the Duck Duck Go search engine. A cool infographic about these privacy issues can be found at Don’t Track Us, a side campaign of the DuckDuckGo founder, Gabriel Weinberg.

User Interest Changes Over Time
However, my main issue at the moment is not maximizing my profits anywhere, someone collecting my data, or even the feeling of uneasiness that is felt when you know that large untrusted entities know so much about you–it’s that the ads that the big G thinks I’m interested in aren’t appealing to me at all. I really noticed this when I used my dad’s computer for some quick browsing and sites were showing me ads for awesome resorts I could go to (because my father primarily uses his home computer to set up vacations). I’ve never clicked on ads in such a fury of excitement before in my life. Clearly these ads interest me, but the internet overlords don’t realize it and are wasting potential revenue by showing me other categories.

Categories I have no interest in whatsoever. I’m sure they’re drawn from when I moved into my new apartment–I did a lot of searching for furniture and other stuff for my new apartment. Keep in mind that any searching I did for these items was probably contained within a one or two day window. However, the whole internet must now think I’m some sort of carpet dealer. I now see ads for nothing but Budget rental trucks and Overstock.com rugs.

Here’s a hint, Google, I already bought my damn rug.

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