Advertisers and publishers have been telling us for over a decade that they need to track everything we do, and gather ever more and more data about us, so they can show us “relevant ads” – ads that we want to see, about things that we’re interested in.

And after all this time, and all the data they’ve collected, they’re still really bad at it!

They’re showing us more and more ads, but they’re not relevant for the viewer, and they don’t sell product for the advertiser, so it seems like:

  • users have given up their privacy for no benefit;
  • the advertiser’s money is just going down the drain;
  • the ad networks, despite their ineffectiveness, are getting rich!

To illustrate this, I’ll share some examples from Facebook. They have an option on each ad to show “Why am I seeing this ad?” Lately, I’ve been tapping on this option (right before I hide all ads from that advertiser, forever):

I’ll start with a doozy

NSW Cancer Council in Beijing

A couple of things about this:

  • I don’t live in Beijing, and I haven’t recently been there. Facebook knows where I live, because I’ve specifically told them I live in Sydney
  • Why would the Cancer Council NSW – an Australian state – be looking to advertise to people “who live in Beijing?”

I don’t believe that Cancer Council NSW wanted to advertise to people in Beijing; that makes no sense at all! But they’re being charged money for Facebook to present ads to people it thinks (wrongly, in this case) are in Beijing. Either that, or Facebook is lying to me about why I’m seeing this ad.

Or, alternatively, that they’re not lying, per se, but instead their systems are screwed up and are just showing incorrect data… because they’re incompetent. You may think “incompetent” is too strong a word, but this is actually Facebook’s core business – knowing their viewers and matching ads to them – so any errors in their core systems are important problems.

Here’s another series of screenshots. See if you can find a theme:

Now I live in Dubai
Now in live in UAE (still in Dubai, perhaps?)
Sharjah is also in UAE
UAE! UAE! UAE!
Sharhaj again!

I should point out that, although I’ve travelled a lot, I’ve never even been to Sharjah, never lived in Dubai, and the only time I’ve ever spent in Dubai or the United Arab Emirates has been during refuelling stopovers while flying to/from Europe.

Plus, Facebook knows that I live in Sydney, Australia, because I’ve told them that!

Also, like the Cancer Council NSW targeting people in Beijing, why would Australians for Solar want to target people who live in Sharjah? Again, I find that hard to believe.

After more than 10 years of collecting our data, seriously, this is the best they can do? To me, it all looks like a scam.

The publishers tell the viewers – you and me – that they need our data to show us relevant ads, but the reality is that they just spray whatever ads they have and don’t actually care if they’re relevant or not, because they get paid anyway.

And they tell the advertisers that the ads will be shown to only people who meet the criteria the advertiser chooses, but that’s just bullshit too. And they charge the advertiser every time it gets shown.

Like all scams, it can’t go on forever, and I think we’re getting close to the point where both the viewers and the advertisers have cottoned on to the scam, and no longer want to play this game.

I really hope so!

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