By Mary McCarthy
Have you ever searched something and then immediately received a targeted ad on Instagram or Facebook for the very object of your earlier curiosity? Have the ads on your digital feed ever creeped you out with how accurate they are? You’re not alone. Targeted advertising has risen to the forefront of marketing in recent years, and consumers are wising up to privacy concerns. Unlike traditional advertising, targeted ads recommend products you are more likely to be drawn to. Advertising companies have a massive incentive to collect as much consumer data as possible, and data mining is a veritable goldmine for increasing sales. The internet is literally and figuratively connected to nearly every aspect of modern life, and consumers are rightly concerned about how their personal data is being used. With the help of powerful algorithms that govern big media companies like Facebook, Google, and TikTok, advertising is more personal than ever. These platforms are designed to keep you engaged, interested, and scrolling, but do they do their job a little too well?
There was a time when consumers were likely to scroll past the terms and conditions offered on digital platforms and rush to click “agree,” but not anymore. Digital privacy is a murky area; legally speaking, the U.S. has been slow to enact legislation specifically pertaining to digital privacy and internet law. In the EU, there is legislation that protects biometric data, which passed in 2018. This legislation defines biometric data as “personal data resulting from specific technical processing relating to the physical, psychological, or behavioral characteristics of a natural person, which allows or confirms the unique identification of that natural person, such as facial images or fingerprint data.” The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) protects biometric data while requiring explicit consent for use from consumers. Privacy practices fall mostly on the consumer, and it’s important to know just how to “opt-out” or withhold consent if you so wish to. To curb digital privacy invasions, consumers can disable cookies in the settings of their phones and computers. A great way to combat unwanted targeted ads is to disable cross-site tracking under “settings”. However, the cost of using many popular websites and apps for free is personal data. TikTok, for example, has been cited as a potential security threat due to the in-depth data mining that their user agreement allows. If you’re concerned about digital privacy, make sure to thoroughly read user agreements and privacy policies before agreeing.
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