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Is the Internet Stalking Us?

Posted May 22, 2017 3:30 PM by MaggieMc

Since you’re reading this blog post, I think it’s fair to assume you are an internet user, meaning that you’ve likely come across personalized internet ads or “online behavioral advertising” (OBA). It turns out these tactics may be doing marketers more harm than good.

A study by Chang-Dae Ham, an advertising professor at the University of Illinois, examined the interaction of various psychological factors, and found that the perception of risk consumers felt was so much stronger than the perception of ad benefits that users tried to avoid the advertising all together.

As an individual plagued by personalized internet ads, created by tracking, aggregating, and analyzing consumers’ online behaviors, this may not come as any surprise to you. They seem to be most prevalent after you’ve bought the product you were researching, they incorrectly assume your interests, and worst of all, it feels creepy to think about how often they actually are able to predict your preferences.

In the study, Ham looked at how consumers assess the risks (like privacy concerns) and benefits (like personalization) of targeted ads and how consumers protect against such tactics. Throughout research into both of these areas, Ham took into consideration the participants’ feelings of self-efficacy, in addition to reactance and the participants’ understanding of OBA.

According to related studies, 70% of consumers are “aware of OBA, but have a poor understanding of what exactly a third party cookie is”—it sits on your hard drive collecting your online behavior after being dropped there by a website—“and how OBA works.” With such low levels of understanding, Ham posits that consumers are at risk.

The study collected information from 422 respondents ranging from 18 to 32 years old. Ham focused on this sample age because the college students were considered “the largest and most active Internet user group across various Internet platforms.”

Perhaps unsurprisingly, those respondents that more fully understood the privacy risks of participating in OBA had a higher tendency to avoid targeted ads. These perceived risks also were found to outweigh the benefits of being presented with relevant ads.

However, the privacy risk wasn’t always enough to convince consumers to opt out. Those using social networks like Facebook were reportedly “willing to disclose their information in order to maintain social connections with their friends… and to satisfy their need to belong.”

Even though research has shown college-age individuals are “less concerned about privacy than those in older age groups,” those who opted into cookies and behavior tracking seemed “uncomfortable and irritated with highly personalized ad messages.” Ham posits this is because they still feel they can’t control the situation.

In the end, Ham suggests that marketers are doing themselves a disservice by not being more open about the process of targeting ads—and giving clearer benefits—since current methods leave consumers feeling annoyed. He believes that giving the consumer more control would be better for everyone, and my inner control freak tends to agree. Although the ad agencies probably already have that figured out about me, don’t they?

Image credits: IPdigIT and L. Brian Stauffer, University of Illinois News Bureau [for the picture of Professor Chang-Dae Ham]

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#1

Re: Is the Internet Stalking Us?

05/22/2017 5:12 PM

When I look up the availability of a serpentine belt tensioner on Amazon and then the next day I am reading my email and there are advertisements from any number autoparts companies in the margins of my browser window, I make it a point NOT to patronize those companies. Although I find little harm from this sort of stalking, I find it annoying and distasteful to say the least.

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#2
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Re: Is the Internet Stalking Us?

05/22/2017 8:20 PM

I am particularly annoyed when I have researched something and placed an order, only to have ads appear with a lower price. I've since blocked pop-up ads on Chrome, and I'm no longer bothered with them.

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#3

Re: Is the Internet Stalking Us?

05/23/2017 8:56 AM

I am concerned when I look something up at work, only to find ads toward that particular product showing up on my home computer. The internet seems to know it is me at both computers.

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Re: Is the Internet Stalking Us?

05/23/2017 10:42 PM

It really bothers me that when I look up something on Amazon, it shows up the next day on ads on my wife's Facebook page!

It's also very irritating when Amazon hits me with ads for items I purchased 4-5 years ago. Amazon is now one of my LEAST likely places to shop. Have you checked out Wal-Mart online? I've purchased several items there that I NEVER would have expected to find (USCG approved fuel line for my boat, bearing puller, etc.)

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Re: Is the Internet Stalking Us?

05/24/2017 8:38 AM

Oh yeah - happens all the time. Look for a product instruction manual sometime, and see if you don't get an ad for similar products the very next day at work. Some companies even connected my Father, who never ventured onto the internet, with my work email. (he lived with me for about 1 year) I got numerous emails from companies he dealt with regularly in the antique business on my work computer. I have never had any dealings in the antique business, nor searched for any such item on the internet. It had to be a connection of him to me that they managed to figure out.

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Re: Is the Internet Stalking Us?

05/24/2017 6:09 AM

The worse part of this is when you solicit some information regarding a specific product or service and then you get bombarded with similar products that are NOT what you were looking for. I was looking for a specific vehicle model and was then sent over 20 emails (my wife's email as well similar to above) of vehicles that were different from the model I want. It has got to stop. I am over 60, consider myself pretty internet savvy, but still cannot stop the harassment.

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#7

Re: Is the Internet Stalking Us?

05/24/2017 11:02 AM

Is the Internet Stalking Us?

Yes...

whether its pop ups after visiting a related site.

Or when buying or requesting additional information from a vender or part in question where in fill out a request, your personal information is now a commodity.

Of which, not only do you receive pop-ups, but also additional emails from similar venders.

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Re: Is the Internet Stalking Us?

05/24/2017 1:55 PM

And what about the ugly links on the bottom of the pages, I believed, called "click bait"? All fake articles,bordering on the insane.

I remember talking to a Marketing guy, and we were talking about the "Do Not Call List", from the FCC. He just laughed and said the marketers asked the FCC for the lists so that they could "Unlist " those numbers. RIIGHT! They just put you on more lists, with the FCC's help, it appears.

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#9

Re: Is the Internet Stalking Us?

05/28/2017 1:47 PM

The other day, I looked up "landscape cloth" for pricing and the next day, I get an E-mail from a Chinese company that sells landscape cloth. I just mark it as spam and delete it. It appears someone in China is monitoring my on-line search. Yesterday I searched for "air rifle scope rings". I will probably get an E-mail from China wanting to sell me air rifle scope rings.

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Re: Is the Internet Stalking Us?

06/06/2017 3:00 PM

Just for fun, look up "Chinese Democracy" to see what sort of E-mail they send.

(That is the name of a Guns 'n' Roses Album and song, so there will be legitimate hits, but it'll be rich seeing how they interpret the phrase, which could be a call for the end of the Communist party rule there.

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