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Behavioral advertising and its use on the internet

Behavioral advertising (also called “Behavioral Segmentation”) is a technique that is based on tracking users’ activity on the Internet. It is used to build user profiles on the internet to display advertising that tries to be as relevant as possible to them.

As we browse the Internet we enrich our profile and we are offered just the browsing preferences that we have previously visited. It is very common therefore that if we search on google masks then all internet has ads for masks.

Las cookies

Behavioral advertising uses an easy-to-understand principle: if a user first visits a website, for example, a football website, some files (called cookies) will be stored in a folder on your computer that uses the web browser (such as Internet Explorer,  Mozilla Firefox  or Google Chrome).

That file is like a beacon that other web pages crawl to show you your search or browsing preferences. To see the cookies used by a website you have to press right mouse button and then INSPECT. For example, on a page this information is displayed if we go to the  Console tab:

On this example page you see cookies that have expired. They are cookies that show that you visited the site in the past and as they have a duration it may be that they have expired.

The cookies policy

To know how long a cookie lasts on a web page it is interesting to look for the cookie policy of that page. For example, Amazon cookies can be found here https://www.amazon.es/cookieprefs. It informs us that there are two types of cookies:

  • Operational cookies.  Operational cookies are used to provide our services and for this reason they cannot be disabled. They are the cookies that belong to Amazon and allow the page to offer us the best offers, best prices, improvements in content, etc., always according to our customer profile.
  • Advertising cookies. It also has cookies to deliver certain types of ads, including those for products and services that are not available on Amazon, and other ads relevant to your interests. It is these cookies that track you, that see what you have done on other pages.

They show us what interests us

A website usually consists of content from various sources, for example, text and images come from the site you entered in your browser, but additional content such as ads are downloaded from other sources (even sources unrelated to the website itself). That is, you can see an ad that isn’t actually hosted on that page, but is linked to another page.

Each time the content is loaded, the request may also send cookie data from your computer. For behavioral advertising, cookies usually include an identification number. If the user then reads a news article about masks, behavioral advertising companies will be able to make assumptions about someone reading articles about masks or football may be someone concerned about health and likes sport.

Therefore, those companies that track us may assume that being someone like this will react favorably to seeing beer ads and sports brands. The assumption might also come to the conclusion that it’s not a good idea to show life insurance offers, because you’re a young person.

A network of networks

The more websites a user visits, the more data will be collected in your profile, as will most newspaper websites and many others.

Within a relatively short period of time of viewing someone’s online habits, a detailed profile can be developed, and this “identifyability” of the data increases, although in theory this data is “anonymous”.

Large amounts of behavioral data can reduce the size of the group that an individual belongs to a very small number of people who might fit into this pattern. Several years ago a search engine published a large set of “anonymous” data about the searches performed thoroughly on its service. As a result of analyzing this “anonymous” data, journalists were able to identify individuals, demonstrating that “anonymous” data may not be so anonymous.

Unknown facts about behavioral advertising

Whether additional data from other sources are used in behavioral advertising is not known. Many companies that are active in the behavioral segmentation business, such as Google and Yahoo!, provide online services, including search. Merging databases would create a large amount of easily identifiable data from personal information.

It is claimed that behavioral advertising is one of the drivers of the network and is behind the economic success of the advertising industry in recent years. The technique is also used experimentally for the delivery of other content, such as news to Internet users.

Users are not asked for their consent for this processing of their personal data. This is changing and more and more people are beginning to ask for explicit consent by the person browsing a website.

The advertising business argues that this type of tracking is of interest to the user, because this helps ensure that you only receive “relevant” advertising. They also propose an opt-out procedure to comply with the requirements of the ePrinity Directive.

Notify of the use of cookies

The key question is whether the setting of cookies (which are rarely set to “Privacy by default”) in the user’s browser already constitute a significant expression of consent on the part of the user. The European Data Protection Supervisor says it is not. Many Internet users neither know about cookies nor change their cookie acceptance settings.

Today many citizens of the European Union have a law that protects them, but they are in fact unprotected because they are unaware that that law is in place.

References

  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/AOL_search_data_leak.
  • https://edps.europa.eu/_en
  • https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/ES/TXT/?uri=LEGISSUM%3Al24120
  • https://edri.org/files/paper03_20120725_02_esp.pdf
  • https://techcrunch.com/2006/08/06/aol-proudly-releases-massive-amounts-of-user-search-data/

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