Online Advertising: Crash Course Media Literacy #7

Have you ever been window shopping? Just looking in the windows of stores…browsing? Did anything from the store ever just…follow
you around? You’re browsing for a new hat and see one
you like, but pass it by. Then in the video game store next door the
hat is just…sitting on the shelf? And in the clothing store after that. Looking at you. Following you. Last episode we talked about advertising,
and the long history of techniques for getting us to buy things. In today’s episode, we’re looking at what
happens when those techniques move online, where you might be followed much more than
you think. In the olden days, before online shopping,
stores didn’t know what you were looking at. They couldn’t track your shopping habits
and then place advertisements for stuff you like wherever your went. Hats were just hats; they couldn’t follow
you around. Traditional advertisements were contextual,
they were put in specific places – or contexts – where advertisers expected people to be. Commercials during must-see TV, billboards
along traffic-filled highways, pages in popular magazines. Places with lots of eyes and people with nothing
else to do. Advertisers had to jam all of the persuasive
techniques and logical fallacies they could into expensive ads, and then HOPE the right
people would see. But that was before the internet. And smartphones. And social media. And geolocation and cookies and pop-up ads
and ad blockers and… Yeah. It’s about to get scary. [Theme Music] Old-timey advertisers didn’t know who would
see their ads, and they also didn’t really know how well they were doing. Put up an ad for soda right by a high school,
and maybe they’d have a rough idea of who walked by it everyday. But they wouldn’t know how many kids actually
bought soda. It wasn’t a total guessing game, but it
wasn’t a science, either. Because of this, advertisers targeted different
groups of people, or demographics: teenagers, older men and women, business professionals,
families, white people, black people, Asian people. Still, these groups are pretty broad. You could place an ad with a TV show that
drew mostly female viewers or a radio program that had mostly teen listeners, but you couldn’t
get too specific. So, ads had to be broad, too, and the products
being sold were incentivized to be one-size fits all. Anything too niche for a wide audience couldn’t
afford to spend money on big, broad advertising. Since the birth of mass media, advertisers
have been looking for better ways to do this, to make sure their ads hit just the right
people. Enter: the internet. In the early days of the internet, the ad
world, was still just like print or TV advertising. Ads were created to reach as broad an audience
as possible. First came display ads – and like print
ads, they’d just sit there on your screen. And quickly advertisers tried to gussy these
up: pop-ups (the worst) and animated ads. Everything to get attention. But the real innovation was turning ads into
links. What happens when an Ad is a Link? It’s convenient. See an ad for a hat. Click. Bam – you’re at But that also means can COUNT
how many times that link was clicked. Advertisers no longer had to estimate how
many eyes saw their ads or what they did in response. And for a while, the click-through was an
unstoppable measurement tool. This brings us to: the web cookie, which made
these ads even stronger. Cookies are like little breadcrumbs that websites
and apps place on your device. They follow you around the web and report
back on your habits. Suddenly advertisers could track who was clicking
on those ads and where they’d go next. Did they browse the site? Did they download a coupon? Did they – [gasp] – buy something?? They could figure out who those viewers were,
their shopping habits, and even what their life was like. Pre-cookie, advertisers put their targets
– that’s you – in pretty broad demographic buckets, but now they could narrow that immensely. Ads can target just 18-24 year old women with
an interest in science who live in Brazil or 34-45 year old men who like soccer in Canada. This is called addressable advertising, sometimes
referred to as behavioral targeting. Take a look around this video. Are you seeing any ads? If so, are they things you’re interested
in? That might be because YouTube is using cookies
to display what it thinks you want to see. Your recommended videos work that way, too. Every time you use your phone or computer,
you’re leaving data breadcrumb trails. The websites you visit log your IP address
a unique set of numbers used to identify your computer as you browse the web. There are other kinds of unique identifiers,
too. They can track what kind of device you’re
using, where you are, how fast your internet is, who else you follow. All kinds of stuff. You may be thinking, “Isn’t getting better
music recommendations and seeing actually relevant ads worth a few cookie crumbs?” The problem is, the websites and apps you
do trust to use your data trails don’t keep it to themselves. Let’s take a deeper look at this in the
Thought Bubble. When you open up a new app or website, or
login to a social network, you’ll often come across some Terms and Conditions. Sometimes they’re called Terms of Service. These are the rules of the road. The company is telling you what you can and
can’t do in the app – like use it to commit a crime, or share stolen work. But they’re also telling you what they will
and won’t do. Most of the time when we create a new account
like this, we just check the box to accept the terms and conditions and move on. But companies know we don’t read those ridiculous
documents. Research even shows it would take us 25 days
each year to read all the things we agree to. So, more often than not, we’re actually
consenting to a lot of stuff we probably wouldn’t if we actually read the darn thing. For example: Instagram. You think you’re using an app to share photos
with friends and chat with them. The app’s Terms of Use say: You can’t post sexually explicit, violent,
hateful, or discriminatory things on Instagram. You can’t steal someone else’s login,
or use your account for illegal purposes. They have a right to kick you out if you break
the rules, like spamming or threatening others or stealing someone else’s photos. Ok, that makes sense. But their Terms of Use also say If they do want to kick you out, they can
do so without warning. And afterwards all of your photos and data
and comments will no longer be accessible through your account. Despite their Community guidelines, they say
they have no official obligation to take down any Instagram content. They don’t own your content, but you DO
grant them a “non-exclusive, fully paid and royalty-free, transferable, sub-licensable,
worldwide license” to use your content. In other words, they could use your photos
however they want, including selling them to third parties. Doing so would be a big breach of trust, so
they probably wouldn’t. But they could. They use analytics tools that collect information
sent by your device, including the web pages you visit. And they may use “device identifiers”
on your phone to track your browsing habits to serve you personalized content or ads. With Instagram or any app you use, with the
right clause hidden in all that legal jargon, your info can be sold to third parties, over
and over again. Then, advertisers can sell you more, better
targeted ads. So when you absent mindedly check the box
to accept god-knows-what terms and conditions, you’re often also signing away your right
to privacy. Right now, that info mainly goes to advertisers,
but you can see how our ambivalent attitude around privacy could make us vulnerable to
bad actors. Or, say foreign influence on things like…you
know…presidential elections. Thanks, Thought Bubble. Data tracking isn’t just used to serve you
personalized ads, either. It can actually determine what kind of content
you see elsewhere. When we browse Amazon or Netflix, they provide
us with suggestions based on stuff we’ve already seen. These recommendation engines, in a way, are
advertisements. It’s showing you one show or product over
another and, by extension, hiding others. The companies that use them certainly say
they’re just being helpful. But these can actually limit our options,
and keep us boxed into the things big corporations want us to see. There are many different kinds of these low-key
ads. But two really common ones are easy to overlook. The first is sponsored content. Sponsored content can mean anything from an
Instagram post to a documentary, that an advertiser paid to make and publish. It may not be obviously selling anything – like
an article about taking care of your car, but paid for by a car company with its logo
at the top. Or it’s that weird list of outlandish, tabloid-y
articles at the bottom of a more reputable site – like “you’ll never believe how
they died” with a picture of a celebrity who is definitely alive. These are particularly hard to pick out, because
publishers like your favorite magazines and websites, will place them alongside their
own original stuff, the editorial content, so they blend in. First: Learn to distinguish between ads and
non-commercial information. Look for phrases like “sponsored content”
“native content” “advertorial” or “presented by brand name here.” Celebrities and media creators may say they’re
“partnering” with a brand – that means they’ve getting money to promote that brand. Even when you Google, scope out the tiny green
“ad” in a listing that shows they paid to be at the top of the list. Second: if nothing else, remember this: when
something is free, you’re the product. If you’re sitting through ads to watch a
video, or scrolling past them on Instagram, that’s the price you pay to share photos
and make vlogs shipping Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio IRL. Check through all your online profiles and
see how much info you’re giving away. Head to the settings on your phone and turn
off geolocation features and microphone access wherever you can. And next time you create an account, think
twice about handing over any personal info. Create a dummy email address for that stuff
if you have to. Finally, know that nothing ever goes away
online. Sure, the internet may forget about your embarrassing
photos and Snaps may “disappear,” but when you’re online, you’re being tracked. It sounds scary because it is. The best way to navigate this hyper-targeted
media environment would be to, well, log off. Forever. But we know you’re not going to do that,
that’s why you’re here with us today. The next best thing is to be hyper vigilant
about what information you share online and minimize it whenever you can. Be wary of anything that seems free, because
chances are you’re paying for it with your attention and your life story. Right now, the biggest internet and tech companies
make the rules, and we all follow along because we don’t like to read long legal documents. But, with any new technology, there are organizations
and policies that try to reign in the power of big players like Facebook and Google. Sometimes they’re successful, and sometimes…not
so much. We’re going to learn all about that next
time on Crash Course Media Literacy. Until then, I’m Jay Smooth. See ya! Crash Course Media Literacy is filmed in the
Dr. Cheryl C. Kinney Studio in Missoula, MT. It’s made with the help of all of these
nice people, and our animation team is Thought Cafe. Crash Course is a Complexly production. If you wanna keep imagining the world complexly
with us check out some of our other channels, like Sexplanations, How To Adult, and Healthcare
Triage. If you'd like to keep Crash Course free for
everyone, forever, you can support the series at Patreon, a crowdfunding platform that allows
you to support the content you love. Thank you to all of our patrons for making
Crash Course possible with their continued support.

21 thoughts on “Online Advertising: Crash Course Media Literacy #7”

  1. Someone make a website with the terms of service of different companies but paraphrased into quick bullet points. Then also leave it open for discussion at bottom.

  2. I hate tracking cookies but I wouldn't mind telling my browser some of my interests that it could share with websites so I'd get relevant ads. is this the future?

  3. Martin Garix ft Khalid – Oceans has been haunting my up next these days. Sigh, remember See You Again by Charlie Puth and Wiz… Or Despacito, and how they LIVED in your up next lmao

  4. Searching for techniques to generate income online. There's a shortcut to find all online working methods. Go to google and just type: "TheMakeMoneyOnlinePro".

  5. I think big data is a part of new digital era and whatever the reason, we cant close our eyes from this new era. We need to control ourselves online, than to log off from the internet forever

  6. Bra..
    I've been using youtube mainly for school these.

    I swear all my ads now say "You should take this online Udemy course, It's taught by expert…."

    I miss my old ads…

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