These Ads Think They Know You

We bought some ad space and targeted readers using the invisible technology of the internet.

Comments: 143

  1. Most of the ads I get are laughably off-target. Those who aim them at me seem to assume I have a personal interest in everything I look at on the Web. Their algorithms can’t cope (how could they?) with disinterested curiosity.

  2. Oh, I disagree, Mr. PL from Sweden. This is Generation A of this technology. By the time they figure out what's wrong in the current approach, our privacy will be a complete fiction. We are literally welcoming Big Brother (the corporate version, at least) into our private lives with open arms. Sad!!!

  3. I would submit that there will be solutions to invasive advertising that is developed just as fast as the advertising technology itself. I know several web developers who have made it their mission in life to neutralize the work of advertising algorithms. Man will always be more intelligent than machine.

  4. Although I am sure there are folks out there trying to fight back technologically, they are not spending billions of ad dollars doing it. The profit motive on the advertising business side is rather powerful. Secondly, although some people may be smarter than the machines, it only means that they have the means to exploit those machines against those less capable. And finally, how many really smart people have been stung by scams of various sorts? Imagine the capabilities enabled by these new mechanisms

  5. The only ads I ever see are even remotely relevant to me are from online merchants -- notably Amazon, which I visit frequently -- that I visited moments before. For those worried that they are somehow being spied on, here are two solutions: a web browser with built-in ad blocking such as the Brave browser; and a subscription to a virtual private network (VPN) which nowadays costs a mere $3 a month.

  6. Also, if you NEVER click on any ad, then no one gets paid for the data targeting. If no one clicked on the ads, then the ad businesses would die from lack of revenue.

  7. What isn’t as remarkable as all that data collected, it is that so much is still thrown back out there hit or miss. The research and the theories are still sketchy, but the more they hit or miss the closer they come to the target ... AND the more data feeds into the monstrosity of this ‘system.’ It’s no surprise really. Advertising has been doing this for decades but now it’s accelerated beyond comprehension. And this mirrors the AI developments. No, AI isn’t that smart, but it is learning exponentially every millisecond. (On another note, I found the ‘ads’ and the underlines in the article confusing since underlining text usually means a link to something. From the iPad app and the web, nothing links to anything.)

  8. Interestingly, one of the reasons Sears may be going bankrupt: I bought a new dishwasher from Sears, then for months was targeted for ads to buy dishwashers. Similarly after the purchase of a new refrigerator from them, then again a washer and dryer combo. For months, I was targeted with ads for products I HAD ALREADY BOUGHT. Not too bright.

  9. That's called re-marketing. When you do a Google or Bing search or click on any display ads online..a cookie is served to your browser that is also reported to the data collection service bureaus. That cookie is then monetized by selling access to your browser to the brands wanting to target people who are in the market for a dishwasher..or car..or teeth whitening..or anything. If you want to see what cookies and ID's are on your browser, download a copy of Ghostery (free) and you can see who is following you...and who is monetizing your online activity. The "long tail" of digital media also means that the effectiveness of ads declines over time and the fact you're still seeing dishwasher ads months after your purchase isnt' dumb on the marketers's a small risk they take at a very small cost..that you still haven't made a decision and are still in the market for a dishwasher. Clear out your browser history and cookies...and the ads will stop following you. Reset your Device Identifier..and the ads will stop following you.

  10. Like youtube recommending songs I just listened to.

  11. That's not entirely true. Think about how many places you've signed into Google. If you never sign in, clear your cookies, etc., sure, you'll probably stop seeing more relevant ads that. But if you use Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Gmail, Outlook, or any number of sign-in, opt-in services like those, your data is intrinsically connected to you whether you've deleted cookies or not. More importantly, how many people ACTUALLY delete their history/cookies when they browse on a mobile device? I'd venture a guess that it's a small minority.

  12. Some days I open Facebook and it has decided to attack me with a host of ads. Being retired, cable TV free and a pedant, I relish a 10 minute scroll through them, marking each product as unwanted and irrelevant, and receiving FB's confirmation that I have successfully purged that particular vendor's invasion into my visual world. Just occasionally something is on target, but I blitz it on principle anyway. I have adjusted my ad preferences and have absolutely zero interests. I never like a page myself, or one that is offered up by someone else. It is most certainly a losing effort!

  13. If you think this is harmless or the potential is harmless, what happens when the government decides it wants all this data so it can predict, for instance, crimes. (the I want to see all your data will always be wrapped up by saying it's for your safety). So your local police force or state police or others could view all the things about you. Let's remember when I say this, I am talking about police or others who have access to your data or work within the "first responder network", who may live on your street or in your city, people who have 30 minutes with nothing to do so they just browse your profiles and where you go and when and what you buy or like or who you visit, or record your doctor's and pharmacies and what your prescriptions are or that trip to the pawn shop. In other words local folks who stalk you because they can. Then think of this getting onto the internet for all to view because they got ticked off at you for any reason at all. The first baby steps in this surveillance is always small and always innocent, until its not.

  14. Good point

  15. Given the inherent bias in AI and statistics in general it is very unlikely that things will get better any time soon. The "outliers" caused by the biases will demand fixes which will lead to more tracking, more spying and much more buying and selling of "our" information. Ad blockers, not using Safari/Chrome/Fire Fox (doubt anyone still uses this), continually changing your AdvertiserID, deleting browser history daily, using search engines like Duck Duck Go will go along way to keeping the ads at bay. Read privacy policies to see if you can opt out. Turn off location. Then just for fun throw some wild cards in the mix. Amazon seems to think I have a baby coming because I make baby items for people. I called and complained, it's been two weeks and no more sign up for our kids programs ads. I laugh at the ads that say "buy" this when USPS delivered it yesterday. More importantly, us old internet users learned to ignore ads back in the 1990s. Tell the companies you do business with that you don't like the ads and tracking and that you will take your business elsewhere.

  16. I use Brave and clear out my cookies and reset my Device ID's daily. Hence..I see generic ads except on my work computer...where they send me all kinds of things I might need in Las Cruces, NM since that's where the IP address is served from...including the local weather.

  17. Few things in life are free. You are if choose to be. But content on the world wide web is a commodity and must be paid for by someone or the whole way we do commerce has to change. I'm open to that, but I'm not holding my breath on it happening anytime soon. We all need to grow up. No one is forcing anyone to buy what is being sold. Russians interfered in the last election by placing words in front of eyes. If those eyes had been attached to a free thinking brain, nothing would have moved any marker. It's not the tool, it's the carpenter.

  18. Absolutely correct! And when toxic waste is dumped into water, it's our fault for drinking it. Everything is down to the individual-- we have no need for culture or laws to support a decent, humane life. Absolutely.

  19. "It's not the tool, it's the carpenter." Of course there's some truth to this, but the proven psychological fact is that the mere presence of ads changes the user environment and can have an undesirable persuasive effect even when the user is not aware of their presence. There's also some truth to the adage "Guns don't kill people, people do.", but the proven fact is that easy access to killing force changes the cognitive equation in any given encounter, making a resort to a lethal solution more likely, not less. So while I get your point I can't say I'm in whole-hearted agreement.

  20. What rubbish, Memi von Gaza. Users have virtually NO control over what they are fed - or what is stolen - by BIG tech. WE THE PEOPLE will hire/elect Socially Consciousl Women and men who will break up, regulate and serioulsy tax these privacy-stealing behemoths.

  21. The use of our behavior for targeting is pervasive. We can clear cookies and use private browsing settings to avoid sharing information, but the practice must be effective or it wouldn't continue. Enough people are clicking on these ads (and buying whatever they are selling) to make them cost-effective for advertisers. I'm curious whether the NYT experiment measured response and how those numbers compared to the typical campaign.

  22. I can tell you why they didn't share that data. It doesn't fit the narrative that Russia elected Trump as President through the $100,000 investment they made in FB ads buried among $4,000,000,000 of other media being used at the time. I can tell you it was a non-factor, and keep in mind that much of the $ being spent was for Sanders and Stein; also ineffective.

  23. The demand for certainty is one which is natural to man, but is nevertheless an intellectual vice. - Bertrand Russell

  24. So. They know I'm almost 80, drive a 12 year old Prius, buy things on Amazon, read the NYT, love reading history, and watch gentle mysteries and garden shows on Netflix and Britbox. This winter I found a second hand set of Sandburg's biography of Lincoln in six volumes. Loved every page. I own all the Ellis Peters Cadfael books which are much better than the TV shows. Peters' real name was Edith Pargeter and she was immersed in the history of Shrewsberry: reading Cadfael takes you back into 12th century England: romanticized, true, but the geography, history, and monastic descriptions are for real. My favorite Britbox favorite of the moment is Hetty Wainthrop Investigates. Hetty previously appeared as Hyacinth. And it's wonderful. So there! Now target me with ads.

  25. Just google those things, repeatedly, and then add them to your cart on Amazon and look at what's suggested as what to buy next. Then find those things at a local bookstore or the library :-)

  26. When I see ads on my FB page I ignore them or block them. I have never clicked on an ad anywhere on my e-mail page or FB. I know they can track because when I open an e-mail from Nordstrom the first ad I'll see on FB is an ad for said store. That blew my mind the first time, now I ignore them.

  27. I get very few ads and the ones I get I pretty much ignore. So I'm not sure how effective they are in any sense. Because I work in IT and often look for things related to IT I get many many ads that are targeted at men and men's issues. I am female. They are not even close to correct typically and even if they were, again I would tend to ignore them.

  28. In an effort to thwart the surveillance algorithms and make it more difficult to profile my preferences, I will search for things that I'm not interested in at all or the opposite of what I'm interested in. I also delete my browsing cookies on a regular basis. Lastly, I never leave FB open when I'm searching the internet--once I'm done with FB I sign out and close the window. But, it does feel like a feeble last stand against a more powerful army.

  29. And, sometimes, for whatever reason, the whole thing seems to get it wrong. I had, for a number of months, ads popping up offering ways to purchase men's briefs. I am not a man. Though I have brothers and nephews, I have never, ever bought any men's clothing, sports equipment or anything else online (nor do I visit any sex sites weird or otherwise, so don't go there). I was both amused by the ads presence and wonder still what exactly set that off. Another way the tracking ads seem odd to me - I buy something, say, from LLBean or Land's End. Then for weeks I see ads from those retailers. I always think, "I just bought from you!" but I am done with them for now. Those ads seem somehow to be oddly behind the curve.

  30. I keep getting ads for gowns for my daughter's prom that was held a month ago!

  31. I'd argue that the algorithms don't do very well. Even Amazon, which has a load of data about my reading, typically sends me suggestions for books I bought as gifts or titles I wouldn't look at twice or that I've already read. It has almost no sensitivity to my actual tastes.

  32. The Kindle suggestions are laughable. My family and I have a running joke about the terrible fantasy/romance/self-published dreck that it recommends on my lock screen. Curious, really, as they have years of my reading preference data available.

  33. Amazon gives me book recommendations of books I've already purchased from them. It's going to be awhile before I'm worried.

  34. I'd rather see ads that are more relevant than see ads that are less relevant. There is nothing scary about it.

  35. Excellent column about a very important issue. Many of the comments seem to downplay the significance by describing how they (attempt to) manage or disguise their personal information, or how the ads they receive don't seem to be targeted very accurately. I think that's wishful thinking, or magical thinking. It's readers in denial. The AI technology described here is still in its infancy -- and already has 30,000 categories of description! And the big concern (for me) is not commercial advertising, but targeted propaganda. That's how AI will tilt the balance in politics, and that's how its users will get (and keep) political power. Big Brother won't arrive as a threatening watcher, but as a gentle (but persistent) persuader. And if you think that persistent propaganda won't work to mold people's opinions, think again. FOX News has made it work, and made a profitable industry out of it, to boot.

  36. I've worked in marketing and politics. All this is possible in theory. However, the reality is rarely so sophisticated. It's more like using highly advanced chemistry to bake a cake. You measure and test everything and watch the interactions. Then, you immediately turn around and throw the cake at a wall and hope something sticks. That's marketing in a nutshell. The process is also incredibly expensive for what are often unmeasurable or at least ambiguous results. More to the point though, no one under 35 operates a computer without an array of privacy apps. If you're tacking their data and serving them ads, most won't even notice. The really serious users go to dark browsers or even more ambitious lengths. The only real vulnerabilities are cell phones and work computers. Most people don't think of their cell phone as a computer so they are often laughably lax in their privacy measures. There's not much you can do about work computers though. As an employee, you're intentionally offered limited control of your system and information. You need to trust the company to protect your privacy. When has that ever gone wrong? I once had an HR department post my personal contact information on public website. It took me about a year to get things under control again. Good luck complaining to management though.

  37. This is a very interesting article, but I think there is a need to start with a clear explanation of what particular definition of privacy we are referring to because the conflation of definitions may hinder a rational discussion. There is data privacy on the internet that involves the issue of companies spying on you with computers where no human eyes are involved and no one is actually invading your privacy in a personal way. This shouldn't be confused with privacy violations based on actual people spying on you and knowing how to contact you with access to your name and address, etc. Personally, I don't care what "robots" know about me, the privacy that concerns me is what other people have access to. Services that companies like Google provide without charging fees have to be paid for somehow. Targeted marketing doesn't seem like such a steep price to pay. All I ask is that the consumer have clear access to what they are paying. If a company is making money off my consumer information, I believe I deserve to know how it's being used, but I don't expect private companies to provide public service. Employees should be strictly restricted from any kind of access that could lead to humans invading the privacy of other humans directly- this may need to be written into law with very serious punishment for violations.

  38. Most commenters laugh this off, either because they think the targeted ads they receive now are laughably off-base, or because they don't see how this is harmful. First, AI is getting better and better at understanding the nuances of behaviors and digital interactions. You may notice the off-base ads, but are you also being subtly influenced by the less-obvious ones? Second, the presumption of harmlessness is short-sighted. Not long ago, a credit-card company made a correlation between people who buy bird feeders and a higher level of creditworthiness. Maybe these folks were homeowners, or nurturers, or whatever. But the correlation was there, and was fed into an credit algorithm. That may seem benign, but what if the credit company determined a correlation between people who buy a certain kind of sneaker and car accidents? Or between a person who likes metal bands and high alcohol purchases? And then used this correlation to deny insurance, or a mortgage? It's not hard to imagine similar correlations being used by law enforcement. We have a presumption of privacy in this country, of innocence before being proven guilty, of denial of unreasonable search and seizure. But most of us are leaving our front doors, our wallets, and our most private communications open, every day.

  39. And there is no court of appeal since all this is completely opaque. It's as if someone spread an ugly rumor about you that is now rampant, except that you are neither aware of the rumor, who spread it or who knows it. The strange reactions you get from people are your only clue but that's as far as you can go. You may have your suspicions that something strange is going on, your possible range of actions in the world are now circumscribed by a lie, but there is no possibility of redress.

  40. Hi - that is actually illegal under the fair credit act. I work in marketing for financial services. You can not use any sort of variable that was correlated/derived from a past credit attribute or many other prohibited attributes like race, age, zipcode etc... This stuff is very tightly regulated and the reason you probably heard about the credit card incident is because they got in trouble.

  41. Use an ad blocker. A lot of sites, including the NYT, don't like them, and some will not let you use their site if you use a blocker. My response is "No loss". Also, stay off of Facebook. I am aware that this won't really solve the problem of too many people knowing too much about us, but at least you don't have to be reminded that they know all the time.

  42. What are the solutions to fix this problem?

  43. There are ways to mitigate this. I went back to using a dumb-phone that doesn't even have a GPS chip. I carry an iPod touch with me inside a faraday bag, so that it cannot communicate unless I want it to (which is rarely). I use an ad-blocking program (as well as privacy badger and random-user-agent), always access the web in incognito mode, and configured my home router to route all my internet traffic through a VPN. If I have to use any wifi other than my home system, I connect to VPN also. You lose a little speed but it's worth it to avoid snooping. This may sound like overkill, but it takes a little effort to protect yourself these days. I've sacrificed a little convenience for a huge amount of peace of mind. I work at a hospital, and HIPAA has awakened anyone who does healthcare IT to the risks here. They're real, and pervasive.

  44. There is no secret to ad inserts in newspapers and magazines. But there is a nearly impenetrable wall around these data mining operations, and it is there for a reason. People would be, or would have been, so much more upset if they knew their pharmacies, credit card companies and just about everyone else were selling information to the data miners. This article did not go far enough. To use data, you have to buy access. Seldom, despite the prevalence of this billion dollar industry, do we hear on how to buy data, who the purveyors are, and who owns them. Again, a wall of secrecy and one would expect a series like the one the NYTimes is running would expose more of that. Until the US gets some teeth in laws preventing this, like the GDPR attempts to do, this will continue to be a cancer growing, with tragic predictable results in the not so near future.

  45. Last November I tried to ask about health insurance on some site. Since then I've been deluged with calls offering to sell me health insurance, even though I found the policy I needed in November. When I decided to let the calls go to voice mail and played them back, I found that most of the calls were identically phrased. Some sounded like the same voice recording them. On the other hand, some of the spies fail completely. I've had several calls offering to help me with my debts. I don't have any debts. So either they're calling me out of the blue or the spies are finding the wrong information.

  46. Since the Times is in the news business and is doing this good project, I'd like to see its tracking services explained in detail. Who are they? What kinds of tracking do they do, and for what purposes? How much does the Times depend on them for income? Ballpark estimates would be good enough. Is there any way the Times can assure me that the government, say the NSA, is not buying (or tapping) commercial tracking in order to build a profile of everyone?

  47. i'm still saying the same thing as I've said in other comments: when I told people - yes, in one career I was a programmer and can do LOTS of languages and know some of what's under the hood - that Facebook and Twitter and targeted ads were TREMENDOUS violations of privacy people looked at me as though I had 5 heads. Why even as this "opinion piece" from the NYT tells it like it is, the Times still knows where I've been and what I like, etc. It's no joke. It's greed and plays on undereducated people.

  48. Use Firefox and configure accordingly.

  49. So tell us what you know about us, NYT. I was curious to see which of the 30,000+ categories cited by the article you would put me in. Can you make the entire categories list public? Open source it. And also, who does data-share with, which companies?

  50. This project showed me an ad saying it thought I was exactly opposite of who/what I am. Vaguely reassuring...

  51. Now this is a great expose. We are more and more under attack. Its why I refuse to pay by credit card when possible, why I refuse to join "awards plans"

  52. My ad blocker prevented me from seeing the ads used in the article. I pay for the Times. If I have to see ads, then I will stop reading the times. It's that simple. I so distrust advertisers and people in advertising that I live in a world that is dictated, largely, by where I can avoid ads that I find to be manipulative and even evil. I am not on social media. I pay for my music service so that I don't have to listen to ads. I watch Netflix so that I can rent movies the old fashioned way--via snail mail. I buy books to listen to on my phone so that I don't have to listen to ads. Marketing is simply privatized propaganda. PR is the same. Importantly, once a person frees themselves from the deluge of marketing, he or she becomes highly sensitive to the content of that advertising. My experience has been that it has made watching television--things like the super bowl--impossible. The blinking and shiny world of advertising makes the whole world the Vegas strip, without the honesty to know that it is crass and disgusting.

  53. Several years ago I refused to invest in Facebook, because I had no idea how they were going to make money. Then I started diving into their advertising services in my attempt to start my own business. That was when the light went off. Facebook can slice and dice the American population into gradations so fine you'll discover who prefers corn over flour in their torillas - and of those, which are more likely to be a Communist or Fascist. I mean, it's that specific. After that I dropped Facebook cold turkey.

  54. I prefer corn (organic, of course) over flour in my tortilla. I can see - really, honestly, I can, at least in a general abstract way - why privacy concerns are so powerful these days. I get it especially with regard to political manipulation as well as the dissemination of false information. But my cooking preferences? I'm afraid I just haven't made the connection yet to how that is potentially dangerous.

  55. ONLINE I use adblocker, on my laptop, so I don't see adds...ones I get on the ipod are idiotically out of sync with me

  56. I can attest that these algorithms fail when it comes to predicting my potential purchases. Just because I look at things, don't mean I'm ever gonna buy 'em. I'll look at a electric motorcycle because it looks cool, then I see ads for them...aint buying one. I looked at a suggestion because I couldn't figure out what it was, an amorphous blob of some sort...turned out to be the cover of a childrens HOW-TO anime book. Most assuredly not buying any of those! And why it was suggested, no clue! Never bought one, or otherwise perused them. I looked at an advert for a sundress, because the model was gorgeous (I'm a guy!) Ain't buying sundresses...least not online, and not without my significant other being there to make sure it fits her! Or return it on her own and pick the one she most likes! (I know better!) What I do see more often are the things and companies I do buy, or have already bought, and not likely to buy again, or not for some time. Like exercise equipment, some random supplements, the occasional article of clothing (like a wool hat) and a lot of books. But the things I might look at, when bored, going down a rabbit-hole, are not what I will be buying. Most of my purchases are typically one-offs, especially books. Why does Amazon keep suggesting the books I already read and bought from them!?! I understand the same/similar authors/genres..but the same titles!? To date, I have never, bought a suggested item, hired a management consultant, or a block chain thingy.

  57. I wish the New York Times would use more targeted ads. I am really sick of seeing men's underwear (Mark Weldon's) every single time i open a Times email. I complained to customer service but there has been no let up.

  58. I work in the data and marketing industry and am shocked at the utter lack of maturity companies like Facebook have in the world of privacy & security. To say that Zuckerburg is a 3 year old playing with a loaded gun is not an exaggeration. The fact he wants the federal government to step in and regulate him is all you need to know about how tech monopolies protect their inviting more government regulation of their business which drowns out any potential competitors. Who needs 100 people writing code when you need 100 people filing legal documents for certification and compliance? If you want to get really scared by what these big data companies have (Oracle and Acxiom), here is a free whitepaper that explains in intimate detail what is collected and how.

  59. Isn't everyone trying to lose weight but still loving bakeries? I find the targeting comedic, but I'm not on any social media platforms so I suppose they just have browser history to go on. What this usually yields is a bunch of ads targeting me for something I've already bought. Despite the onset of Big Data, I think advertising creative people used to be more insightful. Great ads worked off human truths and insights rather than algorithms. It was why the ads used to be the best thing about the Super Bowl - the good commercials were human, emotionally based, and had the same production values as Oscar winning films.

  60. There is no such thing as a "great ad". All are drivel and insult our collective intelligence.

  61. Bill, I respectfully disagree. Google The Guardian's "Point of View" commercial. Nike's "If you let me play" commercial. Even Apple's 1984 commercial (directed by Ridley Scott no less). These and other gems that may have escaped your attention point to a craft that is, like typography, scarce but worth preserving.

  62. Among the issues that concern me that are related to the points raised by this article are the way in which it appears that things like search results, prices offered, and opportunities offered are different for different people. In other words, companies are placing or removing limits on people based on algorithms which are likely to reflect pernicious prejudices. This "customizing" also makes life less equal, regardless of the details of why different people are treated differently. My own experience is that companies do a really terrible job of guessing my interests, in those cases where they appear to be trying to do so. More often, however, I feel as though I'm being shepherded to make choices that I don't really want to make, that push me toward what might be called bestselling products. I can't remember ever choosing to buy something or do something on the basis of an online recommendation, whereas I often have trouble finding things that I'm looking for that I'm pretty certain do exist.

  63. The ads are not loading in my browser.

  64. P.T. Barnum is still right on the money.

  65. My view is that targeted ads are a complete waste of money by those who buy them, judging from the ones apparently targeted at me. As far as I know, I've never bought anything based on a targeted ad. I find most ads insult my intelligence (I have given up TV entirely because I cannot stand the ads). That is one reason I avoid buying anything I see advertised. Furthermore, the good stuff sells its self by word of mouth. If you have to advertise it, it is probably junk.

  66. I tried to do something about my FaceBook ad preferences just yesterday. After an hour of unchecking boxes, I gave up! There may have been hundreds of screens left to go. There are some dodgy scripts that claim to automate the process, but who knows if they will work. Could stuff on sites other than FaceBook come under attack? Are these scripters going to install malware?

  67. I'm working on a series of mystery novels. Based on where my research has taken me, the internet thinks I'm a serial killer and identity thief interested in guns, poisons, anti-abortion domestic terrorism, hospital security systems and all kinds of other weird stuff. I'm probably on an FBI watch list at this point.

  68. I'm interested in the history of ships, so to advertisers, I'm a boat owner. I don't nor have I ever owned a boat. (But this post will probably be recorded elsewhere to correct their misconceptions of me.)

  69. Maybe your comment will get you off their list.

  70. If the underlined phrases are supposed to be about me my cookie settings and using DuckDuckGo as a search engine are doing their job. Your ad knows almost nothing about me and several statements actually contradict each other.

  71. Most of the examples just don’t seem that sinister to me. Of course, any company (including non-profits and, as the article notes, The NY Times) wants to target its appeals to an appropriate audience. Aggregated, anonymous data facilitates that. The article hints at potentials for abuse: the German case where journalists broke the anonymity for example—and these should concern us. But when I buy tickets for a Broadway show and get an ad from my local theater, I frankly admire them for doing a good job.

  72. "Ms. Zuboff argues, that the public is not equipped to fight back." Why would we want to fight back? The consumer gets free search and communications apps in exchange for putting up with ads. Isn't it better to have ads targeted specifically rather than getting inundated with spam?

  73. Excellent point. Like popping opioids, clicking on ads is completely up to the human operating the browser. Personally I have no problems with ads. I simply ignore them.

  74. Better yet: ad blockers, even if imperfect.

  75. @joe You're assuming that big brother only wants to sell you something...not spy on you. And ads being served to you without context isn't spam. Spam is what you get in your email inbox that are not permission-based. We will eventually go to an informed consent/opt-in process with our consumer data...but California will file lawsuit after lawsuit to stop a federal effort. The very existence of FAcebook and Google are at stake..and think of how badly that would hurt the CA economy.

  76. Hmmm. If the ads contained within the article are for real, I'm Sybil. It hit the within the ring, but not fatally, on about 25%. Some of the other 75% were pretty amusing. Though I must admit I do enjoy a good bakery, and could definitely lose some weight. I am happy to learn I'm a cybersecurity expert. But it doesn't say much for the state of the art in the industry if I'm an expert.

  77. This may be alarming but the only real reveal here is the granularity. Otherwise it confirms most of what we already knew or suspected. But here's the sinister part. We know that we are very susceptible to the influence of digital media companies. And we know that ads targeting different segments are more or less valuable to advertisers. A company selling cars would pay much more to reach the people "about to buy a new car" than it would to reach people "who may buy a car in the next year." So the media company has an incentive to influence people to want a new car now. And the sitting President's campaign will pay much more to reach people "considering voting for the sitting President" than it would to reach people who "would never vote for the sitting President." So the media company has an incentive to influence people to consider voting for the sitting President. The story wasn't pretty when we learned that we "are the product" that the media companies are selling. It's even uglier now that these companies are actively working to mold us into even more valuable product.

  78. And it is worth noting, WE are more valuable to The New York Times if we can be segmented into more valuable categories as well. There is no reason to believe that The Times (either through human or algorithmic editorial decisions) is not molding us into more valuable assets.

  79. Although there is some potential for abuse the targeting of ads to certain demographics doesn't scare me too much - this has been going on forever, albeit on a much less precise level, e.g., cooking magazines have ads for cooking devices, 60 Minutes has ads for old-people stuff. If ads are inevitable, they may as well be for something that I actually have some interest in buying. What is pretty terrifying is that one day the data-collection companies may sell or otherwise release (perhaps by being hacked) these rather intimate profiles of one's interests and online proclivities in a personally identifiable way. Imagine if you could view someone's profile - a colleague, friend, or family member - for $20, like those public records websites sell now. That would be a massive invasion of privacy and probably cause many people extreme anxiety. We all know that we get tracked but no one signed up for that. Calls to mind the ending of Fight Club.

  80. I get extremely tired of having ads bombard me everywhere, so I simply ignore them all. Nobody can force me to read their ads or purchase what they're suggesting. They may think they know all about me but what good will it do them if I refuse to even look at their online ad. They're wasting their effort on me and that's my small consolation.

  81. 42% is not worse than flipping a coin when there are more than two possible outcomes (as is the case with guessing someone's age).

  82. Most people prefer to see aids "targeted" at them than than ads about things they have no interest in. Advertising has always targeted groups. That why television, radio and newspapers have always pitched audience demographics to advertisers. If you pick up an outdoors magazine or go to an outdoors website, you expect to see ads about camping equipment, not home decor.

  83. I work in digital advertising, and while I agree that greater transparency is needed from advertisers as well as the publishers that benefit from them, these sorts of articles always mischaracterize how this sort of programmatic advertising is done. It's always made to seem as though advertisers can look through data records individually and pinpoint, for example, "John Smith in Philadelphia who drives a red car and lives at 123 street." In reality, advertisers are only granted access to generalized datasets from data providers, and most ad platforms explicitly prohibit and prevent advertisers from viewing or even leveraging low volumes of personally identifiable information. Again, I'm all for more transparency across the board, but let's not pretend like advertisers are picking and choosing individuals to target. Moreover, I've always felt like ads tailored to my personal tastes make the internet a more enjoyable place, not a worse one. With that said, I know that there are plenty of bad actors out there, so concerns are not entirely unwarranted.

  84. I don't mind targeted ads - actually prefer them over stuff I wouldn't be interested in - if they aren't intrusive or pop ups. If that profile info was limited to just ads on the internet, I wouldn't be scared or annoyed. Its where that info goes beyond just advertising that gets troubling. Hopefully we don't get to that place in this country. I'm more amused by the ads I see for items after I've bought them. I take satisfaction in wasting advertisers money.

  85. I use Firefox and block the ads. Works great for the NY Times and LA Times where I spend most of my time on the internet. I'd unblock them if you'd stop making the ads intentionally distracting and stop tracking me. If everyone did this, we might get rid of some of the more obnoxious ads. Or maybe the advertisers would just come up with ways to defeat Firefox...

  86. Good Morning: Haven't seen even one of these ads. What's wrong with me?

  87. The scary part of this for many people is the politicians getting access to this data when they've exempted themselves from 99% of the laws for digital and online advertising; even CAN-SPAM. Obama's team did a good job with digital targeting in 2012 (giving him a very narrow win) and Trump mastered it in 2016. Both political parties know exactly which members of which households hold which opinions about which candidates at any given time. If they come knocking at your door and ask to talk to your husband...but won't talk to you...that means your husband is voting for Trump. Likewise, when door knockers come to my door and ask for me, they have a cheat sheet on what my top 3-4 issues are and they are coached to tell me how their candidate is best able to address those issues. The Right Message to the Right Person in the Right Context in the Right Media Channel at the Right Time = HUGE RESULTS. It's why FB and Google and Amazon are valued at what they're valued at. It's not the products they sell that make them money. It's the data they collect about you..and the resale of that data.

  88. --Since I use "Adblocker Ultimate" on Firefox, I don't see any ads. Anywhere. --Before going to another webpage, I close my browser, and use a program to clear all cookies from the computer, including from places like Adobe Flash Player. --I use "Ghostery" to block the transmission of information through "beacons", trackers, cookies, and such. --All communications are encrypted through "HTTPS Everywhere". --I don't use Windows 10, since my direct experience of it was that it was malware posing as an operating system. Am I any better off with privacy with all this, at least on the Internet, or am I just kidding myself?

  89. My question to the NY Times is are you recording my reading history and if you are can I opt out?

  90. So what was the results of all these experiments? What is the point of this article?

  91. Honestly, so what? Nothing in this article explains, as promised "why it might disturb you."

  92. WOW. Welcome to how the internet works. The NYTimes above all should know that content isn't free and everyone needs to get paid. This is why you sell your homepage for an exorbitant amount of money, have a very experienced ad sales team and have a pay wall. As for GDPR, CCPA and the like, they are setting up a false sense of security and are not working or going to work as intended - except of course for our friends at FB and Google and the walled gardens of the world, so they get to use and keep their very valuable data to increase their dominance in the space (this is the real story). It's not as nefarious as everyone makes it out to be (some location based companies are.. iffy, but again it's not as bad as you make it out to be and marketers are not looking for PII or to ruin peoples lives, etc..) #IDOTHISFORALIVING

  93. "Registered Democrat... Browsing history..." I lived through a military dictatorship in my home country in the 60's. Spying eyes watched what newspaper you bought, so my father switched to the government mouthpiece. I thought I had left those practices behind to another era and another continent. Little did I know they would follow me to the land of free and the home of the brave in the name of the Right to Sell Stuff.

  94. This would be a much better article if you, the publisher in this situation, honestly admitted your role: You don't say which ad networks you used for targeting, which really matters (just referring in passing to 'digital advertisers', which is not accurate - it makes me think of BMW or Apple, but actually means an ad *agency*). More importantly, you don't describe the role of the *publisher* (the NYTimes in this case) in the targeting process. You do mention, that the NYT advertises (so, participates as an advertiser) with targeted ads to gain readers. How about describing the NYT role as the publisher: The entity in the transaction that delivers the 'inventory' (visits by your subscribers, like myself) to your other customer, the advertiser. I would actually genuinely like to know for instance, if my reading history on your site is used for targeting. You will have trouble maintaining credibility in this series, until you're clear about the publishers' role in the issue.

  95. I guess one way to stick it to 'em is to use an app that generates random bucketloads of browser history. Presumably someone is selling such a thing already. But why bother even with that, given the rubbish quality of snake oil these marketing data companies are selling..."A study from 2018 found that the gender assigned by data brokers was accurate, on average, only 42 percent of the time – that’s worse than just flipping a coin." So I guess it's long as you're not a pron-watching German judge...

  96. Those who dismiss the implications of targeted advertising need to remember that a great many informed observers believe that the Brexit vote and the 2016 US presidential election were changed as a result of targeted advertising. We like to think that we make our own decisions; that we are not pawns in someone else's game. But Google didn't get to a market cap of $900 billion by giving stuff away for free. Indeed, look at how one bullish investor explained Google's business model: "Using any free web service or mobile app made by Google comes with the caveat that you are surrendering a part (or should I say total?) of your personal privacy. "One example of this rewarding scanning activity is that Google probably was able to learn of your personal credit card numbers through the monthly credit card electronic billing statements you get through Gmail, or through Google Wallet, and Google Play Store enrollment. Google’s offer to advertisers to track/share offline spending of credit card holders who watched their online ads is just one example of how deeply knowledgeable Google is about people habits and activities. "As investors, we should be thankful of this no-holds-barred strategy of Google..."

  97. I wouldn't know. I've been using an ad blocker for years.

  98. I see a potential new pastime: algorithm skewing. Picture a group of folks sitting around the table and pulling up a card with a word printed on it: let's say it says "spaghetti." Then it's off to the races to see who is the first person to have an ad featuring spaghetti in it--score! And this just scratches the surface of potential for us "tails" to start wagging that "dog." What about a game of "algorithm busting," or "algorithm prosecuting?" I remember my father in law misspelling his daughter's name in his mailing list way back when and told us to let him know if we ever got anything mailed to us with that misspelling so he could rake them over the coals. I'm sure he's spinning in his grave about what's happening these days and would be encouraging us to try to break up any algorithm constructed out of our private data without our permission and would be regaling us for GIVING permission for the rest. Thanks, NYT for your privacy series and it is with mixed feelings that I know that you're keeping track of which articles I have yet to read.

  99. Be very afraid. The software engines and algorithms that drive this process are in a Darwinian struggle for survival. The ones that are most effective at targeting humans and manipulating them are the ones that will get the resources for the next iteration. They'll keep getting better at what they do. This is an open-ended process with unclear limits and no way of knowing the eventual outcome. It's being driven by people whose only concern is making money. If there is any concern about negative consequences or misuse, there's no sign of it on their part. As far as these techniques and software engines are concerned, there's no difference between selling soft drinks and selling candidates. The Mercer family with Cambridge Analytica have demonstrated that people will use this technology for political ends. (As has Russia with troll farms - and more players are getting in the arms race.,-online-propaganda-efforts-are-about-to-get-much,-much-worse ) The scary thing is, this technology does not have to be 100% effective at steering people into doing what others want; it just has to work on enough of them to drive everyone in that direction, willing or not. This isn't just about ads either - it's about the news we see, tailored to get our eyeballs. Control the information people get, control them. It's that simple - and now it's being sugar-coated, made addictive, and inescapable.

  100. Messing up the data is a small defense. Look online at leasing a Maserati, search for a vacation in Tahiti. Then your search for the hours of the public library and a bus schedule contradicts that. Do anything you can to confuse the data. Pay cash whenever you can - the data brokers haven't accessed bank accounts yet, I hope, to see what bills you paid online or who you wrote a check to, or when and how much cash you withdrew. Never fill out a store card application online - use a paper form with all false information. When you pay cash, you get the discounts and there is no matching with your bank card. Admittedly, this doesn't work with Costco. The ads I see on this website show the unlikely sites I briefly opened, and nothing else relevant. I'm never tempted to click on an ad from a website. Going to 'startpage' to search for something I need to purchase is easier. Easier still is to make a list on paper and just go to the store.

  101. I continue to use an ad-blocker and if a site refuses to let me read it without turning my ad-blocker off, then I won't read it. I pay for a subscription to the NYTimes but will not look at ads, despite constant imploring to "Please Allow Ads!" Nope, not going to happen. So while I enjoy the Privacy Project pieces, I also feel cynical about them when they are accompanied by the constant pleading to allow ads.

  102. Ten years ago I was diagnosed and successfully treated for breast cancer. Although I am not on any Social Media, I did do the occasional research on the Internet on things connected to my medical condition. Obviously, the French healthcare system, employment bureau, hospital, pharmacy had my health details. Quite early on during my sick leave I suddenly received for the first time a letter addressed to me personally, encouraging me to plan ahead for any future funeral needs. My husband (same age) received no such letter. I will never know for sure if that letter was randomly sent or advertising specifically targeted at me because someone had passed on/sold information about my illness to the funeral company, but it was extremely upsetting at the time and although I received no other similar letters afterwards, to this day I do not believe it was a coincidence.

  103. Targeted ads have certainly got me wrong. I'm followed all over the internet by luxury department stores even though I'm broke and never look at department store sites. If they want to lose money following the wrong people, that's their problem.

  104. "Marketing" in general is not a productive use of societal effort. It adds no value to the goods being produced, and in many cases the costs of marketing far exceed the costs of production and delivery. It certainly has developed into a large industry that has gone way past dissemination of useful information into outright propaganda. Generation of demand where there is none, for example. I always figured that if there is no demand, a product is just not that useful and probably a waste of time. But I suppose marketers and advertisers disagree. After all, who put the orange-haired man in the White House?

  105. Who are these people who buy things from internet ads? I have never once purchased anything because I saw an ad. Also pro tip: on facebook mark every ad sexually explicit or offensive. It takes a while but they give up on showing you ads for a few months at a time that way.

  106. I also wonder. Who are these people? I’m dead curious about the efficacy of this compulsive targeting. Like you, I’ constantly marking these ads as spam, offensive, especially when I suspect of being specifically targeted.

  107. I'm not all that impressed. If Internet advertisers were really capable of figuring me out, I'd get ads for a certain kind of wine storage unit I'm looking for at a nearby location and a certain kind of sun screen I am looking for, also at a nearby location and at a better price than I paid the last time I was in the big city. Instead, I keep getting ads for a certain hotel that I stayed at recently, though, given where the hotel is located and given where I am located, it's unlikely I would be going back anytime soon -- and, even if I were, I know the place already and they don't have any local competitors in their category. I keep thinking I should write to them and urge them to spend their advertising budget more intelligently. The two ads I mentioned initially would be most welcome -- for their information value. Send them. Please.

  108. I work in the medical field and 80% of my browsing history deals with looking up publications on deadly diseases. That now explains why I get all those ads for coffins and cremation services....

  109. We need more stories around the ability to de-anonymize this data. It doesn't matter what a large companies knows about you - you're worthless to them as an individual. What matters is the ability for individuals or nefarious actors to assemble and publish revealing data that could affect our personal relationships - like what happened to the German judge mentioned in the story. That IS the story, not better/creepy targeting of low-calorie bakeries.

  110. This reader actively resists clicking on targetted ads, particularly when they seem scarily prescient, and from time to time practices random Googling to further throw AI trackers off the scent; deceptive practices that started off in the spirit of experimentation some years ago, that have by now come to feel like basic necessary hygiene.

  111. I work in the marketing tech and data industry and I want to say this is a rather accurate portrayal of how targeted digital advertising works, so kudos for that. I would add that a helpful way to think about the issues of privacy, data collection and the accuracy of decisions made as a result is through statistics. For targeted marketing, do we really care if some of the information about some of the people being targeted for an ad is wrong? No not really. At worse, the individual is shown an irrelevant ad. The business that is advertising - they just care that they are getting some return on investment. For example, if before they used to show ads to 100 people for $10 and only 1 one of them bought their product, but now they can get 5 our of 100 to respond in exchange for spending $20 - they will do so, even if 95 of the people were still irrelevant. Now that standard of prediction is obviously not at all tolerable for something like whether or not someone should be granted parole. Applying data gathered from thousands of others to make predictions about an individual is ok for marketing, but it really is not ok for determine the fate of an individual in a criminal proceeding.

  112. I find targeted ads actually laughable. Just as one example take the New York Times (iPad app). It thinks I read Chinese. (I don't). It thinks I live in Sacramento. (I don't). It thinks I respond to ads with video or motion graphics. (I scroll them off-screen or stop reading the article if I can't). It thinks I would buy my wife the ugliest pendant I have seen, just because I can put her name on it. (I value my marriage). I think it has figured out that I am a married guy, with some disposable income, who lives in California--but I probably told the NYT that in a questionnaire I responded to in the past. I don't think the New York Times is any more clueless than other on-line advertisers, but it is clear that the Times' algorithms know nothing insightful about me, and the ads on the iPad app are basically a money sink for their purchasers.

  113. I have to agree. I did buy my mom a necklace with her 3 daughters names on it. The company did it wrong and I had to file a claim with PayPal to get my money back since the company was non-responsive. I even posted a bad review online about them. There are lots of bad reviews and thousands more good -but -fake reviews. I still get the 'targeted' ad. I am not complaining, It shows that sometimes AI is not so I

  114. Not only laughable, but annoying as well. I don’t even look at these ads. They disgust me. Occasionally, I look at ads trying to sell me dresses, shoes, intimate apparel. I know I’m being very specifically targeted. I had just done shopping at the mall, paid with a credit card. Every time I notice this correlation, I delete the ad. If I’m on fb, I send it a message to please stop the spam. It’s offensive. I’m dead curious to know the results of the targeting. If most people react like I do... they aren’t selling a dime.

  115. As more and more companies are using this notion of surveillance in their use of the Internet and the building of their websites, the reaction of the people is to have more privacy. Because people cannot see it happening in front of them, it is difficult for many to grasp. This idea of surveillance becoming normal and an occurring action which people are unaware of in their everyday lives is an example of the term domestication, more specifically domestication of surveillance.

  116. Every trip to my local grocery chain ensures a bit of targeted advertising. They know my purchase history and issue coupons for things they anticipate that I would want. I once bought some baby items for a friend, and now get handed a coupon for baby formula along with my receipt. Not once or twice, every single week for months. Moderately amusing for me. Less so for the loved one I know who suffered a miscarriage but was targeted through moves to a new address by formula companies. Only her doctor's office and health insurer could have known she was pregnant and one of them must have sold her info or included her on a distribution list. No internet needed.

  117. Like Walt Whitman, I am large. I contain multitudes. Have at it new advertisers. Grab what you think you can of me because I will contradict myself again and again and your ads will be useless and expensive and without value. Once again, the tech nerds have sucked the life out of what used to be a fun, creative industry. Although I must say, I love getting their ads for unicycles. How could they have known I was only kidding.

  118. Hooray for you, Esposito! One of my favorite subterfuges is entering a totally misleading age.

  119. I almost never see ads because I use an ad blocker. I use DuckDuckGo as my search engine, which doesn't track me. I was required to open a Google account when I got my cell phone, but I stay logged out unless I have to open gmail to retrieve a document someone might have sent me. I watch YouTube anonymously. I don't have a Facebook page and I don't do Twitter or Instagram. I don't buy anything I don't want to buy, and I never click on an ad. My cell phone probably has information about me, but I only turn it on when I need to make a call or text someone, so it's not learning very much. By now you've probably figured out that I'm over 60 and see this technology as a necessary evil with a few good uses. I must sound like an obsessive nut, but I feel just fine.

  120. There is absolutely nothing wrong with you - Around The Bend The sick ones are the millions upon millions of Joiners & Lemmings. There are still plenty of folks who click on "Free" offers & think you will actually win something with "contests".

  121. I take reasonable precautions to prevent ads from targeting me by blocking them and keeping as much of my information off the internet as possible, even to the point of removing my name from apps that sell information about individuals. But naturally some ads will still come through. I usually ignore them or block them. I'm not willing to give up Facebook or Twitter at this time, so I have to put up with the rest, like it or not.

  122. What happens when ad personalization morphs into content personalization? To some extent that happens with news aggregators (like Google's, which is more of an aggravator) which pick the news articles they show you based on your perceived likes and dislikes. But no doubt it is only a matter of time before the NY Times and other media publishers take to arranging their on-line editions just for you. I am worried about the invasion of privacy by the use of our personal information for targeted ads but I am more worried about the pseudo-reality that can be constructed for each of us in much more sinister ways. For instance, consider an election in which the content you read about the candidates is no longer the unvarnished truth, but the truth molded to just the reader's known tastes? This sort of manipulation I find particularly frightening; you would not know what content to trust anymore.

  123. Here is one thing I found weird - A few years ago, I bought a new car, a Subaru. All of a sudden, I started receiving online ads for Subarus. I just bought one already! Did someone think I would run out and buy another new car because of these ads? Didn't make sense at all.

  124. Not long ago, the New York Times showed me ads for my own workplace, specifically focused on a project that I had worked on. Creeeeepy.

  125. #1 annoyance with the NYTimes are/were the prompts to allow advertising. Sure let me just do that so that everybody with a checkbook can track me all over the web and monitor my behavior. Or, hear me out, I could just bock those pesky prompts along with all the ads. I think I'll do that instead :) If the NYTimes needs more revenue, why not just give us the option to pay more for ad-free? Don't waste your time asking me to look at ads. I'll cancel my subscription first.

  126. By the way - clearing cookies really works wonders. Including getting around the free articles per month restriction on NY Times (don't do that though - subscribe!)

  127. Meanwhile, NYTimes continues to post links to Facebook, Google and other 'surveillance capitalists. Ironic, is it not?

  128. It’s in the interest of advertisers to know you better than you know yourself, to know what you want before you do.

  129. NYT likely won't allow this post to appear, but I compose it nevertheless. I used to tolerate ads, and avoid buying/using those things I see advertised. OTOH, I did make a conscious effort to patronize some of the NYT advertisers, and let them know I saw their ads in the Times. I know that advertising is a large part of the revenue the BYT needs to operate, I get it, but... I began using ad blocking over all of the intertubes long ago, but only recently on the NYT pages. I blocked the Times ads only because they're furiously adding "features" to their pages, popups and stuff that DEMAND, in big white letters on a black background, that this longtime subscriber, logged in a such, "SUBSCRIBE!" Things like that made me angry, thus I blocked all ads on NYT pages. Times subscribers aren't offered a place on the account page to opt-in/out, or for example, pay for two subscriptions in order to remove those dang popups that eat up MY screen space. Yes, you read it right, I'd be willing to pay double the subscription rate if it assured me I'd not see those NYT demands again. I have almost no problem with normal ads/advertisers in the Times. Again, I get it, and after many years reading the Times, I still respect it as the prime example of a great metropolitan newspaper. It's devolving, unfortunately, slowly adding more "features" commonly encountered only in rubbish like the Enquirer. Target any but Times ads at me, fine, the more I see 'em the less likely I am to patronize 'em.

  130. Was I supposed to see some ads or mock ups? If I was, the technology is so bad that it won't work. If I wasn't, this article is a bit lame.

  131. Reader comments to NYT articles must be a *goldmine* of profiling information! Talk about getting at the very heart of one's psyche! The question is, does the NYT sell or otherwise use this information?

  132. Are comments to NYTimes articles tracked and used for targeting?

  133. I find curation of our internet activity for the purpose of targeting services imbecilic at the best of times with one exception. The recommendations I get from Netflix and even amazon are irritating at least and service cancelling at their worst. On amazon it stupefies me to have products I have already bought on the website recommended over and over again. Sometimes the ads that accompany web pages are positively alienating. They represent wrong guesses of almost every aspect of my life. Humans are complex beings and have multiple reasons to look things up AI still struggles to capture that complexity and generate information that actually draws viewers, not repels them. The only service that really nails my likes is Spotify. But they have a catalogue to draw from that is vast and deep. And I tend to use that app more than almost any other.

  134. What about the Google, Doubleclick, and Optimizely third party cookies on this page?

  135. Maybe it's because I look up dozens of new things every day, maybe it's because I do a lot of research for other people, maybe it's because I lie a lot in on-line venues -- who knows? But they really have the wrong profile for me. So this prompts me to think that advertisers are wasting a lot of money buying these services when the data bases can be so easily manipulated.

  136. I’m curious to know the results of all this targeting. I refuse to buy when I notice I’m being specifically targeted. I delete, I complain. I feel violated, intruded upon. I just hate it. These ads antagonize me instead of persuading me. If most people feel the way I do... not sure where the profits are.

  137. Technology lets advertisers identify and target increasingly narrow demographics, but it can also protect you from their predations. My browser is set to delete all cookies every time it's closed, and a browser add-on blocks trackers. Plus there's the nuclear option: an ad blocker means you'll never even know if someone targets ads in your direction. There are some minor disadvantages, such as having to log into regularly-visited sites every time you close and reopen the browser, and a few sites don't let you view their content with an ad-blocker enabled. But overall, it's largely possible to protect yourself from being identified and targeted. And, needless to say, avoid signing up for a Facebook account under your own name.

  138. I have learned to ignore ads on the net as well as I ignore them on TV. If only I could have an Ad Blocker for TV that works as well as the one in my browser. And as long as I'm paying to read the Times on line I ignore the pleas to allow ads.

  139. Ha! I actually saw the "lose weight/bakery" ad.....I'm actually underweight, though I do love bagels........

  140. I know that many services on the internet (NYT, for example), could not survive without ads, but I hate them all, especially the animated ones and (the worst) the ones that have sound. In all the years I have been using the internet, I may have clicked on a total of three ads. I ignore them, try to scroll past them, sometimes click on "stop seeing this ad," although I know whoever "they" are will just hit me with another one.

  141. @CarsonDrew I have a professional interest in biological telling what lists I'm on!

  142. I recently attended the Adobe marketing conference. You might think targeted ads are dumb and you're not gonna buy anything anyway. But when you see the demos of what their AI platform called Sensei can (and will) do, you'd be frightened of the implications, which go far beyond targeted ads. You might think they're just the PDF or photoshop people, but their data business is the real engine, just like Amazon or Google. We should not assume that these companies will continue to be benevolent, despite the occasional employee uprising to tank some projects (ex. Google and China). We're at the edge of a different world.

  143. Good article and would like to see more in-depth ones on this topic. The one area I don't think the article explained well (or, I'm just too dense to understand) is how advertisers connect data that has been collected in disparate ways. In one example, the article showed data combined from two places: Browsing history and Credit Card info. I get that my credit card purchase history is rich with information on what I buy and likely identifies who I am, but how does the data mining software make the connection between my browsing history and the person who made a credit card purchase at the local bagel shop. In one case it's an IP address, or possibly the name I use when logging into a website (which may have no relation to an actual name) and in the other case it is credit card data (which may or may not have a name attached). Locational data? Now that would be scary.