I am not naive. I am aware of the level of targeting and profiling that advertisers use to get their message across, especially on the Internet. However, every now and then it really catches me off-guard. Facebook is notorious for this, sending ads my way that read “Sing in Italy this summer” because I’ve listed on my profile that I’m a choral director and singer. I get lots of kayaking and outdoorsy ads because those activities are prominently listed in my profile, too. Today’s incident was striking, even by Facebook standards.
I was exchanging messages with my friend Ken Cothran. We had veered off-topic and he was asking advice on wireless cell plans. When I looked at his reply, immediately to the right was an ad for Vonage phone service. I brought this to Ken’s attention, and wondered in my reply what would happen if I mentioned a Nikon D90 or Canon Mark 5D camera. Sure enough, an ad popped up that read “Photographers Wanted – A Chance to win a Canon 5D.”
Our further exchange went something like this…
Perhaps Facebook does think you have tattoos. Perhaps you should get a tattoo. Maybe it’s referring to the Russian girl band Tatu, or perhaps making a commentary on your Betamax collection of old Fantasy Island episodes. Who knows?
After that last exchange mentioning something in Russia I got an ad for T-Shirts with the following image…
Facebook goes beyond targeting for fields in a profile and scans text for potential ad words, even in supposedly “private” messages (although nothing’s really private on Facebook.) This isn’t the first time I’ve noticed it. I was in a chat box talking to my neice about a telescope for her son when an ad for Astronomy magazine appeared. This was even more egregious as the ad appear right after I typed the words.
For a long time now we’ve had to ignore advertising on the Internet, and I’m not sure why these incidents on Facebook have struck me the way they have. Have to give up a bit of eyeball real estate is the price one pays for getting free access to systems such as Facebook. As long as they don’t get too obnoxious, and don’t start dropping spyware on my computer, I’m OK with a few visual distractions.