Your views: Are targeted online adverts too intrusive?

Online adverts Covert surveillance: Advertisers look at what you do online to decide what adverts you are most like to answer

At the beginning of the financial crisis the orthodoxy was that businesses like advertising would be the worst hit.

Technology of Business

As your business crumbled it would be the first overhead to go.

But today global advertising seems to be one sector bucking the gloomy trend, with the biggest growth sector being online.

Spending on web advertising topped $100bn for the first time last year. Digital now commands nearly one in five advertising dollars, and forecasts suggest we can expect double digit increases for at least the next couple of years.

Unlike with traditional TV campaigns, advertisers online can increasingly target commercials at precisely the right sort of people, using sophisticated data mining and tracking technology.

But what do the people at whom this is aimed - you, the consumer - actually think about being tracked online so that companies can predict your spending habits?

A group of students at the British Museum tell us what they think.

Manuel

Most of the content that you access online is free because of advertising. But I think the price you're paying for the content is too high because it's way too invasive.

Manuel

They don't let you watch whatever you want without previously watching the ads.

For example with YouTube, when you are about to watch a video… they make you watch the ad first and then you can watch the video that you selected. It's not nice, it's invasive.

From the advertiser's point of view it's really cool because you are speaking to the precise target, right?

But essentially I don't like advertising at all - I don't like anything between what I want to do and me, you know, and advertising online does that.

They prevent you from enjoying what you want to enjoy in life.

Start Quote

How are they supposed to know all that about you? My girlfriend doesn't know that much about me”

End Quote Manuel

[The internet] used to be freer… now it's all dependent on copywritten material and permissions and advertising providing you the content.

It's supposed to be the other way around. It was supposed to be… people generating content for other people to watch, and now it's all about advertising once again as it is on TV and all media.

I believe that the nature of the advertising should not be that invasive because they know what I've looked on Google for example. And according to that they make the ads appear.

So they know what I'm doing, they know what I like… how are they supposed to know all that about you? My girlfriend doesn't know that much about me.

Kei
Kei

It's very annoying because the advertisement itself of course it's annoying but I really don't like the contents of the advertisement because it's something like meet some boyfriend in internet, it's like I need boyfriend.

So, it's like dating website. And the other one is something, how to reduce your fat in your body.

I think [they're targeting me] because maybe the website checks, what kind of other website I saw or [checks] my age or something.

It's not what I want so just was very annoying because it makes me feel like I'm a very small and typical person. And the website acts like they know what I want and I really reject that.

Amy

I find it quite creepy the way that [adverts on Facebook] seems to know your behaviour and who you are and directs ads at you based on that.

Amy

For instance if I've been Googling Weightwatchers or something like this, there will be weight loss and slimming pills.

My friend was getting married, and she had wedding dresses and wedding adverts. It feels quite intrusive.

I'd rather go and look for things I want to buy… rather than them guessing [about] me and my personality… that feels big brotherish.

I'm not a big fan of adverts.

Kate

It's a bit weird actually, but maybe because I studied Arabic… I'm encouraged to meet Arab men.

I feel really creeped out when not for any reason just because it's strange that it would know that.

David

Start Quote

[Advertising] doesn't seem particularly conspicuous online”

End Quote David

I don't really notice [online advertising]… I don't visit many sites where it plays a big part, for instance the BBC website doesn't have any advertising so it's not a huge concern for me.

I have certain feelings about the advertising industry in general but I wouldn't limit those to online advertising.

I don't really have a basis of comparison, it's always been present on the internet and you're confronted by advertising every way you go and all walks of life. So no, it doesn't seem particularly conspicuous online.

Ruth

I think [online advertising] is excessive and not very necessary for who they are targeting, and it's not reaching the right audience.

Ruth

It is just never anything that's necessary to me, not necessary to young women actually.

It's more targeted when I seem to access my cookies and such, that's when I get - depending on where I'm browsing from, if it's my laptop or my home computer or my laptop - more the cosmetic stuff and clothing and things like that.

It catches my eye and I might come back to it later, so yes, it does work.

[I feel I'm being targeted on Facebook] more than the others… so I choose not to use Facebook as much as I would Twitter or any other networks that I do use.

The students were speaking to the BBC World Service's Business Daily programme. You can listen to their online advertising special here.

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