Targeted Facebook ads cause concern

By Eugenia Tavarez |

Flagler College junior Keila Davisson recently started shopping online and has been noticing an odd trend in the advertisements she has seen ever since. On her blog, Google searches and other websites visited, Davisson’s advertisements have all curiously featured exactly her favorite bands, brands, and even events going on in her hometown.

“What kind of online privacy is that? You buy something off Victoria’s Secret, and suddenly all the ads on every page are tailored to everything you like − right down to your favorite color,” Davisson said.

In this age where the Web is a an interactive experience used for online shopping and constant content uploads onto Facebook, advertisement networks have begun to hand-pick ads for users based the cookie trails of their online activity. This cookie tracking has sparked a heated debate over the user’s rights in online privacy.

Cookies are small pieces of data, containing a user’s unique identification information, that are interchanged between a Web browser and a Web server. Often cookie-tracking involves the sending of a user’s cookies to servers in other domains, such as an advertisement site, that can follow a user’s internet activity across various websites.

The New York Times reported that in a survey of Internet users, 54 percent of Internet users felt that website tracking was harmful and an invasion of privacy, whereas 27 percent of users thought the tracking was a helpful way for websites to reach out to particular consumer audiences.

Flagler College Senior McKenzie Blaine has taken a supportive role of cookie tracking. She has found that advertisements matched to her particular interests have made shopping online an easier and much faster experience.

“If I see an ad on a website with a shirt I like, it’s just a matter of click and buy,” Blaine said. “Then more ads with more stores come up and I don’t have to look through a thousand pages.”

Despite the benefits to advertisement tailoring, many believe that websites should have opt-in policies, which give Internet users the option to turn off this feature while browsing the Web. New York Times reported that out of 2,117 Americans surveyed, including 1,017 Internet users, 86 percent agreed that these privacy policies would be beneficial to the protection of their online content.

As more Internet users have found their privacy threatened online, more of these “opt-in” policies are quickly finding their way onto many popular sites, like Facebook.

In a New York Times article, Bret Taylor, Facebook’s chief technology officer said, “Ad networks infer tastes, they make a profile you can’t edit or delete − and you may not even know about. At Facebook, it’s completely in your control.”

Opt-in policies, like the one implemented on Facebook, require users to give their consent before a website is allowed to share any of the user’s information with advertisement networks.

However, many Internet users, like Davisson, are still wary about the effectiveness of online privacy when cookie-tracking options are still not available on many websites.

“I only shop online at big name brands because as much as I love the stuff sold by small stores like Etsy, I don’t feel comfortable with my information on just any site now,” said Davisson.

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