31 tabs open on 3 browser windows at once, each a window leading to a set of carefully curated distractions. All this at a time when you are expected to squeeze productivity out of the hourglass to the trickle. It’s not as if we didn’t already have enough to procrastinate. Amazon’s compilation of ‘products for you’ makes your cousin who visits you with exotic gifts from overseas seem less thoughtful. One day you’re reading an article and out comes a pop-up with that T-shirt you always wanted to buy. You think to yourself “That is creepy”, but you are also most likely to click on it. We are driven by the likes ‘Top picks for you’, ‘You may also like’ etc but in the midst of all this, we fail to realize the gravity of ‘Based on your browsing history’.
Under the garb of all that is mentioned above lie the claws of the Goliath called ‘Behavioral Targeted Advertising’. These are to help retailers effectively place what they’re selling in a place where you’re most likely to click on them and voila – you now have 32 tabs. Targeted advertising has been part of the Internet experience since the late 1990s. This is when cookies were invented. Amazon stores a main user ID, an ID for each session, and the time the session started on my machine (as well as an x-main value, which could be anything) – which is what helps it present a list of things you are most likely to buy. Similar are pop-up ads only one step forward in their persuasion. They are universally loathed for how annoying they are. But users are forced to close the ad and therefore interact with it even it if is only for a second – which is interaction nevertheless. While it’s no secret that our movements online are carefully tracked, why is it that we’re so casual with a retailer having information related to our browsing habits? It is the doing of apparent customisation and personalisation that we succumb to the these advertising attempts. One is bound to feel special when something that is specifically what they’re looking for shows up on their screen. But are they really as harmless as they are made out to be? Browsing histories are reflective of our identities and with everyone including even 70 year olds shopping for everything right from their talcum powder on the internet – how much data collection is too much? It only leaves me wondering if we’re not that far from Orwell’s world of “They are watching”.