Marketing has been a profession as far back as humans have had things to trade with one another. It relies on understanding what people need or feel, and aims to sell a product that is perceived to fill those needs. To do that, companies historically employed rules of thumb, or focus testing to better understand their target audience. This all changed when people started sharing their entire lives online and willingly handed over their information for “free services”.

The Slow Death Of Privacy

It became the social norm to provide every little detail about our lives to the people we were connected to online, and we were certainly not stopping to think what the company providing the service might be getting out of the deal. Privacy policies were promptly ignored when people engaged in new services, as people desperately gave away what seemed so worthless. This explosion of data significantly changed the marketing game, and arguably capitalism itself (Shoshana Zuboff 2019).

The Spy in your Pocket

The modern smart phone is a glorified tracking device, constantly collecting and sending your every move to the companies that provide the services you use. All this information is collated into behavioural data, which is implemented in the production of predictive models used for the most advanced marketing the world has ever seen. These predictive models take into account everything you search, type, look at, and buy. They know your schedule and habits, and understand what mood you’re in at various times of the day.

How They Use Your Data Against You

All this information allows them to manipulate you in just the right way to get you into the position where you are most likely to buy something, or change your opinion to something more favourable to them.

Manipulation can be achieved through the subtle delivery of content, such as news stories or search results to elicit certain feelings within you at just the right time to expose you to a new idea or advertisement. What these companies are doing when they engage in this sort of high-level marketing, is not just the traditional campaign; they are trading a likely future where you buy a product or service, or change an opinion. This is only possible with the vast amount of information they have gathered about you.

As an example: Google may know that you go for a run at exactly 8am every Sunday, and when you come back home and have had a shower, you look at social media for 15 minutes. At that exact moment, they know that while endorphins are flooding your brain in the midst of that “runner’s high”, you will be most susceptible to an advertisement for new running shoes. This is the ultimate marketing opportunity that companies will pay a premium for to ensure it’s their advertisement that you see. Even if it doesn’t result in a direct sale, the influence on the subconscious is highly valuable.

See Some of What They Know About You

Next time you feel like being unsettled, take a look at your Google account privacy settings. I could see the very first YouTube video I watched on my account back in 2013, every photo I ever had on an android phone (the default app is Google photos, which uploads everything to Google’s servers), and every place I had ever been to on a world map. When deleting the information, I was presented with a message that said something to the effect that they would hold onto the data “as long as required by law… or as long as commercially important”. I’m not sure what that means for the existence of my information on Google’s servers, but I’m sure as hell not going to be adding to that stockpile as long as I can avoid it!

It Goes Beyond Marketing…

The real power of these techniques comes in the form of the potential to undermine democracy. This kind of targeted manipulation has the power to influence the voting behaviour of average citizens, and we can only imagine what the possibilities are for influencing the politicians responsible for forming policy.

Categories: Education