The minute you go to a website, depending if the website uses them, and look at content a cookie is saved on your computer. Generally, they do nothing – maybe hold a small amount of data that is used to remember who you are. But sometimes they can be used to construct an online image of who you are and what you like to do, and in this case they stop being harmless – depending on your point of view.
In discussing the potential of digital marketing Damien Ryan says that there is:
…an evolution in the way people are using technology. It’s about harnessing the distributed collaborative potential of the internet to connect and communicate with other like-minded people wherever they are: creating communities and sharing knowledge, thoughts, ideas and dreams. (Ryan 2014, p.14)
By this he means people are sorting themselves. They are choosing what they like and selecting things that they like to do. We are putting ourselves into the box, making it easier to sell us items. Online marketing experts do this with the collection of cookies, known as third-party cookies.
In theory, these cookies could be used to track visitor behaviour across multiple websites, building up a picture of user browsing behaviour as they surf the web. (Ryan 2014, p.74)
Searls elaborates by stating that:
Advertisers don’t have to build this capability for themselves: they rely on ad delivery networks that claim they can show relevant ads to people no matter which website they’re visiting. (2016, p.77)
Is this bad though? Is there really an impact besides what advertising we are seeing? Ramlakhan explains:
Third-party cookies are unethical and a breach of privacy because they invade one’s privacy by tracking an individual’s movement on the web, they are not consented for by the computer user nor is the user aware that their every movement on the web is being tracked, and they allow personal and private information to be used for marketing needs and possibly sold to businesses, thus treating an individual as a commodity and exploiting an individual’s personal information. (Ramlakhan 2011, p.60)
Do I feel like my privacy has been invaded when I see a targeted add pop up on Facebook? Not really, it’s more of a joke, that some company is going to pay Facebook money to advertise something to me that I have already found.
— ?Rob Williams (@tomahawkrob) August 22, 2016
I still see ads for this, and I feel bad. I mean I like the ABC shop and perhaps constantly seeing the ads will keep it fresh in my mind. Perhaps it will eventually entice me back to the website and I will inadvertently spend my money where as otherwise it would have been forgotten.
Hang on a minute… Curse you online marketing!! #deletecookies
Tene makes a really interesting comment in that:
Every day, millions of users provide Google with unfettered access to their interests, needs, desires, fears, pleasures, and intentions. Many users do not realize that this information is logged and maintained in a form which can facilitate their identification. (Tene 2008, p.1435)
Does this mean that Google should be paying us? Are we not doing market research and not being compensated? If people were to be paid for just doing what they normally do, perhaps the data will be skewed and flawed and then not as valuable as it had once been. If we don’t want to be tracked, Google suggests using the incognito mode.
— ?Rob Williams (@tomahawkrob) September 7, 2016
Is it all in our heads? Are the marketing guides so sophisticated that we believe we are being watched? I’m going out on a limb here and, well no. We are being tracked. Companies are sorting us based on not what we like but rather what we are viewing, even if it only for a second or two. Are we really box people instead of a mass amount of individuals? Does anyone like being placed in the marketeers box? Do we care?
I think that for most people advertising has become, the white noise of the internet – it just goes on without being noticed, occasionally something may grasp our interest and we click on it and Facebook gets paid. But then this is how services like Facebook and YouTube are free. Would you pay a monthly subscription to avoid advertising? If the demand out strips the revenue gained from advertising, I’m positive it will happen and then maybe we can browse without being constantly surveilled.
Then again there are other ways of profiling users without checking for cookies – enter the dawn of the geo-location marketing.
Geolocation ads? Parked at Shell I get this ad… pic.twitter.com/Ngw85hyHbE
— ?Rob Williams (@tomahawkrob) September 6, 2016
Perhaps there is only one way out…
A movie trope for the protagonist to avoid be tracked is: https://t.co/Jnmsz1JqTK
How would you do it? #ALC205
— ?Rob Williams (@tomahawkrob) September 6, 2016
Ryan, D 2014, Understanding digital marketing. [electronic resource]: marketing strategies for engaging the digital generation, London ; Philadelphia : Kogan Page, 2014.
Tene, O 2008, ‘What Google Knows: Privacy and Internet Search Engines’, Utah Law Review, vol. 2008, no. 4, pp. 1433-1492.
Searls, D 2016, ‘The End of Internet Advertising as We’ve Known It’, MIT Technology Review, vol. 119, no. 1, p. 76.
Ramlakhan, NE 2011, ‘Ethical Implications of Third-party Cookies’, International Journal of the Humanities, vol. 9, no. 1, pp. 59-68.