Why does it matter to you that advertisers can use ads to identify gays?

Recent stories indicated that advertisers could identify gays through targeted advertising.  If that is not a part of your life, why does it matter to you?  Let me explain the process so you can see that the advertising technique should give us all pause.

The issue is how incredibly focused advertising can get.  Let’s say you sell jewelry.  You want a very targeted ad campaign because guys that are seriously dating are going to have very different interests in jewelry than someone who is engaged.  Engaged guys have different jewelry interests than married men.  You need to appeal to each group differently.  If dating, a guy may be thinking about an engagement or ‘promise’ ring.  If engaged, maybe the guy hasn’t got the wedding ring and needs to find one.  If married, something modest for Valentines Day or anniversary or birthday may be more of interest but probably not a big diamond.  Those three different interests would really call for three different advertising campaigns because each group of guys would have a different focus and would respond to different appeals.  So, you develop three different ads which are very carefully structured to appeal to a guy where he is at. 

Then you design your FB ad campaigns for wedding rings to place the ads in front of people identifying themselves as “male” and with a status of “in relationship”.  For the married guys, you specify gender of “male” and status of “married” and deliver a different ad to them.  You can put the targeted ad in front of guys who fit your specifications.  This is a great way to advertise your products or services to exactly the people who may be interested.  That should be a very effective and economical ad campaign.

So, when you start getting people to respond to the first ad (criteria of gender “male” and status “in relationship”), what kind of person do you think replied?  Obviously a guy who is in a serious relationship and is thinking about certain kinds of women’s jewelry and planning to spend some serious bucks.  Same with the people clicking on your add in late January (okay, they clicked through about February 9) – they are men looking for something for their wife but not planning to spend a fortune.  GIve them a very specific pitch.

Here comes the problem.  Facebook allows you to specify you are interested in men, women, or both.  ‘Looking for’ categories include friendship, dating, relationship, and networking.  If you, a consumer, specify you are male, interested in men and seeking dating or relationship, what have you declared about yourself?  Pretty reasonable assumption is you are gay.  If you set very restrictive privacy settings, thinking you have hidden that data from all but your close friends, what happens when you click on an ad that was targeted for and delivered to the gay community?  You have inadvertently identified to that advertiser that your interests match their advertising criteria.  If you have already come out, that is okay.  If you wish to keep that information private (for whatever reason that is important to you), then you may have created an unsettling problem.

The other challenge is that advertiser now knows that information about you.  More ads can be sent to you.  If you provide any contact information, such as email or real name, the advertiser can contact you directly.

Also keep in mind that advertisers may sell their data to other advertisers or use it for future campaigns.

Now that you know how an advertising campaign can be structured, you can start to see the problem.  Keep in mind that the ad you are looking at may have been targeted for you specifically and when you respond, you have identified yourself as a member of that target audience.  Again, if that is okay with you, no problem.  If you didn’t want that to get out, then there is a concern. 

Doesn’t have to be something as central to your personhood as sexual orientation.  Maybe your work community isn’t friendly to liberals or conservatives.  Maybe your environment doesn’t look kindly on people of faith or people who don’t care about God.  If those things are private, targeted advertising could let out things you don’t want let out.

While I have described the Facebook methodology, keep in mind this is the concept that all on-line advertisers are using.

What are the action points?  I am not sure.  Most important thing is to be aware of what is going on around us.  For individuals, as a starting point ponder for a moment before you click on a targeted ad.  Also ponder what you have already declared about yourself in your on-line persona.  For businesses and ministries, be aware of the issue and consider whether there may be some hesitation from your target audience.

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