The Creep Factor of Online Marketing

Online tracking goes hand-in-hand with Internet marketing and targeting the right person with ads catered to them. This is a concept that is widely known and widely discussed whether or not the ethics behind it are really there. For adults being tracked online the main concern is privacy; but what about their children being tracked too? This is where the privacy factor turns into the creepy factor, as many say. Gary Kovacs’ Ted Talk, “Tracking our online trackers”, brings an interesting insight to this topic. He not only tracked those tracking himself, but also his young daughter, who uses the computer for primarily children websites. She too, was tracked just as much as he was.

Gary Kovacs’ Tracking of his Trackers

This is something I believe is not ethical tracking and that a child should not be followed on children sites. As a marketer I have other, conflicting, views on this matter. Kovacs relates this tracking of his daughter to the likes of something physically following her around with a notepad taking notes on her entire day. This analogy makes the creep factor sound worse. As shown in the image below, you see just how much Kovacs’ daughter was tracked after visiting only 7 sites (blue dots). This image starts to bring the issue to life for me.

Gary Kovacs daughter being tracked online

As a marketer I look at this issue from both views: one it may be creepy, but it is also how the Internet works and how targeted marketing works. This tracking gives us valuable information that can create ads that are catered for a young girl interested in very different products than her middle aged father would be. This is where an issue does arrive. How does targeted advertising know who is use the computer and at what time. Kathryn Doyle’s article, “Underage youth widely exposed to online alcohol marketing”, touches on this very issue. One study showed that almost 60% of the teens surveyed said that had seen alcohol ads online. This is a very high number considering they are not legally allowed to even step foot into a liquor store, yet they are still be exposed to this online. Us marketers can say we will try to regulate these targeted ads and try to eliminate them but the keyword here is “try”. This is very difficult to do and as noted in Doyle’s article, it may be impossible to enforce this.

Trying to counter these unwanted ads for children may have to come from the other end of the computer: the parents. We marketers can only do so much to protect children from being the targets of ads not intended for them. Parents can counter this by their own measures of using ad blocks or only allowing sites without ads on them. Sheltering children from marketing is impossible when they see it everyday whether it is on their computers, television, or billboards and signs. Internet marketing gets a bad wrap for being creeping because the personal nature of this tracking and what one does on the Internet. You can only blame us marketers so much before having to look at what you can do to protect yourself from this matter.