Internet ads follow shopper for weeks

Published 9:58 am Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Internet ads follow shopper for weeks

By John Howell, Publisher Emeritus

With all the personal information that circulates in cyberspace about us, the Parkland shooting contrast how ineffectively the collection, evaluation and sharing of personal data can be in identifying a potential mass shooter before he shoots, yet how effective it can be used for precisely targeted online marketing.
My own best example comes from web searches related to the marriages of two grandsons last year. For months after the first marriage in June, online ads for “grandmother of the bride” dresses kept popping up whenever I opened my browser. Not only were there dresses, there were ads for every possible accessory that might be purchased by someone looking for one. If you have shopped online even for a minute, you have no doubt seen suggestions related to your search — “buyers who bought this also looked at …”
My lack of response following the June nuptials was apparently noted algorithmically, because the frequency of their appearances had begun to decrease until we resumed searches in anticipation of the late December wedding of a second grandson, yet rekindling the pop-ups. The point is that if my occasional, half-hearted Internet searches can shape me into a target for such marketing, the capability exists even now for collection of data, mainly from social media postings, that might help identify people whose publicly posted threats warrant further investigation. And when data raises a red flag — like appears that it should have with Nikolas Cruz — the ability to collect, consolidate and funnel the information to appropriate law enforcement agencies could be streamlined as effectively as the online marketing that targets us.
The difference, of course, is money. Every online marketer and social media platform has spent millions, maybe billions, honing their abilities to collect our personal information. We cling to privacy safeguards and worry about identity theft until see an item on the Internet that we want to have delivered by 8 p.m. tomorrow. There is also concern about government overreach into our private lives if it gains more access as might be required to streamline collection of information to flag potential mass shooters. Shades of Orwell’s 1984, Huxley’s Brave New World and other dystopian future-fast-turning-fact fiction.
That’s where we are in the cyberworld, trapped in a vortex that swirls us round and round, faster and faster, presenting us with multiple new confluxes tomorrow before we’ve had a chance to ruminate on the one that has dominated our worry today.

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