Why targeted online ads are risky and intrusive

Edward G. | October 08, 2020

Online ads integration can be seamless or take a more direct, in-your-face approach. Nowadays, browsing would be incomplete without dozens of promotions, but that does not mean users enjoy them. Online ads occupy webspace, prolong loading time, and might be deceptive or malware-ridden. Besides the technical nuisances, advertisements reflect our behavior online, age, gender, preferences, and even political or social opinions. Let’s consider all factors related to online ads, including their generation and potential threats.

How online ads become proactive instead of passive

Online ads refer to content designed to spread commercial messages through images, logos, animations, texts, and other elements. They are the pillars of free services and content we get. The current online advertising model heavily relies on users, specifically for conveying personalized content. Hence, marketers enforce an ecosystem in which they normalize continuous tracking and data collection. As a side effect, advertising’s complex infrastructure has triggered a rapid spread of fake news and clickbait.

Consider the traditional ads on billboards or road signs. We could classify them as passive: vendors have targeted audiences but take it as a single unit. Online ads, on the other hand, dwell deeper into the individualistic consumer needs. Ad networks actively and continuously mine customer data, profiling users in the process. Instead of relying on assumptions and bare-boned predictions, advertisers base their strategies on real-life explorations of consumer behavior. We have also seen how online ads participate in US political campaigns.

Such personalized online ads also depend on cooperation between services. Third parties gradually exchange their customer information to match users with appropriate content. Hence, the ad-tech industry performs elaborate user-labeling according to their behavior online, age, gender, beliefs, and other criteria. Retargeting is also a strategy applied for online advertising.

The issues with targeted online ads

Online ads significantly improve click generation and conversion rates. Therefore, it is natural for companies to focus on the bright side. However, we only need to take a couple of steps to see that the reality is a lot more bitter. For one, online ads might reinforce stereotypical and discriminatory attitudes towards people. Women are more likely to receive job ads for nurses, secretaries, cleaners, or secretaries. Racist undertones are also evident. Ads targeting African Americans could present job offers for supermarket cashiers, taxi drivers, or fast food staff. So, generating job postings according to users’ gender or racial background only empowers the existing imbalance between particular groups.

Another unexpected effect of targeted online ads is the psychological impact. According to the Harvard Business Review, targeted advertising can change people’s self-perception. However, the studies focused on the positive effects (feeling more sophisticated or more eager to go green). The psychological impact could be the opposite. In some cases, people might rank online ads as creepy or inappropriate. For instance, streams of low-level jobs could diminish one’s self-value or make one question the repetitive association.

Last, but certainly not least, is the overall privacy intrusions and marketers’ unsavory tactics. While the transparency regarding online ads slowly improves, it is far from perfect. How do marketers receive information? Who do they share it with? The classic phrase across thousands of privacy policies is that services might share data with third parties. A single website could operate with dozens of third-party vendors. Beyond this point, users remain in the dark of the actual proceedings and exchanges that happen internally.

One thing is clear: our behavioral information is invaluable to marketers and services. Without tracking users through the web, it would be impossible to profile users according to specific labels. However, escaping the online ads loop is not that easy. While not all personalization strategies are harmful, wanting to escape the hard-wired targeting is understandable.

How can you escape online ads?

  • Rejecting cookies. Most websites use these components to improve user experience and online ads. Currently, transparency when it comes to cookie application is one of the focus points for webmasters. So, when you visit websites, you usually need to agree with the cookie policy. However, do not click on “agree to all” buttons. Take the time to adjust these settings. For instance, you should keep only the essential cookies and refuse all marketing-related ones.
  • Employing AdBlocker software. Malvertising has been around for years but continues to be a menace. While some online ads are relatively harmless to your security, others could contain malicious code. By clicking on them, you could activate clickjacking or visit fraudulent websites. AdBlockers prevent such scenarios. They block advertisements, including the ones that might be dangerous.
  • Starting with Facebook and Google. These tech giants drastically contribute to the online advertising industry. To shut targeted online ads off, you can adjust settings on both platforms and prevent the ad personalization. Social media and search engines are key players for targeting users. So, we strongly recommend you to take care of these settings as soon as possible.
  • Downloading a VPN for anonymous browsing. Targeted online ads heavily rely on location-based advertising. For instance, showing ads for a service offered in Los Angeles is utterly irrelevant to people in Spain. Hence, marketers extract users’ IP addresses to determine their approximate whereabouts. Together with browsing habits and contributions from dozens of third parties, the personalized data profile is complete. Luckily, Atlas VPN can help you obviate these scenarios. First, it will replace your original IP address with the one belonging to the selected VPN server. Secondly, Atlas VPN will encrypt and isolate your web traffic, making it nearly impossible to pinpoint your actions online. Hence, it will minimize the data ad networks can reach and monetize.

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