25 March 2013

Way Off Target

Modern technology is amazing. The power of social media is changing everything we know about communication and information dissemination, but even more than that, it’s actually convinced me to get a Twitter account.

I’ve had the thing for a couple of weeks now, and while I can’t say it’s changed my life at all, I’m sure it’s made a huge difference to the ten or so people who now eagerly follow the occasional deranged overflow of my overcrowded mind. Mind you, the ten people who follow me on Twitter appear, broadly, to be the same ten people who follow this blog. So I guess you already knew what you were in for.

Meanwhile, as we’re all well aware, the real point of social media is to make money out of people’s lives. The whole point of having a massive audience is, ultimately, to sell that audience as a commodity to advertisers. And if you have access to the personal data of millions of people in order to target that market to the desired demographic, well now you’re cooking with someone else’s gas.

I like to keep an eye on the targeted ads that Facebook sticks on the side of my news feed. I never click them on principle, but it’s interesting to keep an eye on what the algorithms in Facebook’s advertising database can determine about me based on the content of my profile. When it advertises local music or theatre events, I’m impressed, but not surprised. When it advertises protest events for left-wing political causes, I laugh and congratulate myself for having such a diverse and socially active group of friends.

This week it gave me a targeted ad informing me that ASIO (Australia’s intelligence agency) had job vacancies for linguists. I broke my rule and clicked the link, not so much out of a desire to be a secret agent, but more out of professional interest in career opportunities for academically qualif…

Yeah, okay. I totally want to be a secret agent.

It doesn’t take Q to realise that Facebook knows I’m a linguist because of my listed education and the groups I’m a member of. It’s possible it even knows I’m in the market for a new job because I work for the NT Government. Nonetheless, I was touched that Facebook thought of me when the opportunity came up.

It turns out that ASIO wasn’t after linguists so much as interpreters, which I’m not. So I closed the ASIO website and went back to Facebook. The ASIO ad had been replaced with a new ad.

Engagement rings.

A few weeks ago I informed the world (and Facebook) that my relationship status had gone from “It’s complicated” to “It’s even more complicated with Kirribilli Kim”. And to demonstrate how proud we were of the fact that we’d kept it a secret (not very well) for nearly six months, I even listed the not-uncontroversial start date of the relationship. And apparently the Facebook advertising algorithm has decided that eight months is quite long enough, thank you very much.

It’s possible the Algorithm came to this conclusion by first checking my religion, which is also listed. And I suppose that’s fair enough. Eight months is getting up there for a Christian couple these days. Fair play. I may have to add a note in the personal description field saying something like “frequently gets in trouble for not doing what the other Christians are doing”. That’ll sort it all out, I’m sure.

In related news, the humans in my life who seem to be arriving at the same conclusion, and asking similarly inappropriate questions can go jump in a very deep lake. But that’s a different post, which I’m probably not going to write.

Meanwhile, I think I’ll leave the sociological commentary on targeted ads to one side for now. Otherwise I’ll have to come to some uncomfortable conclusions about what the ads for Fitness First are trying to tell me.

Make of that what you will.




Garry with 2 Rs
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