I should to be concerned: Facebook, Twitter, and Google know all about me. And they use this information to target me with ads. That's how they make their money.
But they are so bad at it. Not at making money, but at how they use information about me to influence my buying decisions.
I'm offered deals to pay off my college bills (I graduated 40 years ago). I buy something online and am bombarded with ads for the item I already purchased. I'm curious about something, so I check the internet and am hounded by big data for weeks.
I have come to avoid online ads like the plague. They hardly ever offer what I'm looking for. Who wastes money on those things? I don't claim to be normal, but am I that far out of the loop on this?
Does big tech know my every move, my every mood, but have no clue what to offer me? Or do they know next to nothing about me? Or do they just intentionally annoy me with stupid offers? These companies offer excellent services for info searches and socializing, but the way they make money seems sketchy.
It just might be a swindle. A recent Freakonomics episode suggests that every dollar spent on online advertising brings in about 40 cents worth of revenue. Is "value-subtract" a business buzzword? More study is needed, I'm sure, but this sure sounds like a scam.
Ads I find compelling are sponsorships of PBS and NPR programs. I used to go to Home Depot because they support This Old House, which I like to watch sometimes. Then I found out their founder spent a lot of money to promote the political candidacy of a guy who spent much of his time lying to us. So I figured he too might be untrustworthy and could influence his company. Now I mostly go to my local hardware and garden supply stores. Big box stores can be handy, and I don't boycott them, but I seldom need them. I get better service at my local stores, which seem to be doing OK, maybe because my neighbors have a similar view. Home Depot posts more ads than the local stores do, but these are easy to ignore.
I accept that advertising can be helpful. In 1906, Sweet's (now Sweets) first released a catalogue for architects and builders. Basically, they collected advertising brochures, organized them by product type, bound them into an encyclopedia, and provided a good index. It grew from a single volume to 50,000 pages in multiple volumes. Some manufacturers spent their entire advertising budget on Sweet's. For many decades, if you wanted something for construction, you checked Sweet's, compared products, got real data about those products, and chose what suited your needs. This was and is to me ideal advertising: useful information for making an informed choice. Sweet's comparative format encouraged manufacturers to provide helpful information. Slick cut sheets could influence one's view of a company, but without real information they were quickly passed over for a competitor.
|Reprint of the original Sweet's Catalogue|
The internet is where we go to get this type of information now. It's a messier, clumsier search than Sweet's was, but the internet peddles so many products that this is understandable. Google helps me search for products that I may need or want (although they are not great at it) but I hardly ever click an ad instead of an "organic" search result. If I do, it's likely a mistake, which just annoys me and makes me less likely to buy what they're selling, even if I feel apologetic for costing them a click.
Granted, online advertising is more complex than what I'm implying here. But I'm not convinced that a lot of sellers aren't being had. And, until I see evidence that they have me cased, I'm not going to worry that they know too much about me.