Consumer profiles can help advertisers define who you are, but not who you will be

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More so than ever, marketing agencies are utilizing browser cookies to deliver ads that are tailor-made for each individual person — but how truly effective are these tidbits of information to advertisers? George Washington University law professor Jeffrey Rosen recently put the online trackers to the test, clearing two web browsers of their cookie data then using each with a different personality. With the help of BlueKai, an online data aggregator, Rosen was able to see the resulting consumer profiles, which labeled his two identities with a number of broad generalizations like "midscale thrift spender" and "runs a large company with more than 5,001 employees." While it's apparent that this information would be useful for knowing exactly who an ad should be shown to in order to have the greatest effect, using it would rule out the possibility that a consumer may ever considering purchasing something they never have before. And in the future, argues Rosen, that may limit the serendipity of our culture as a whole.

"This leaves no possibility for individuality, eccentricity or the possibility of developing tastes and preferences that differ from those of people you superficially resemble."

In Rosen's analysis in the New York Times, he delves into the evolution of customized ads, and how the increased use of mobile devices can make people even more susceptible to consumer profiling. Interestingly, some companies feel that concentrating on where the ad appears can be more effective than just who it's delivered to, an approach that decreases the chances of "overtargeting," ignoring potential new customers. For a further look into the world of targeted ads, real-time bidding for individual consumers, and how the methods may be encroaching on privacy, head over to the source.

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