Sick on a Sunday

Gmail’s targeted ads less creepy than Facebook’s

Posted in Random Rants by jamiemarie on June 8, 2009

Targeted ads online: where technology and advertising clash and totally invade your privacy.

I’m assuming the ads that appear when logged into Gmail or Facebook are based on some of the content on these pages: emails, articles posted, the information listed.  But sometimes, they’re way off or assuming way too much.  Recently, I’ve come to discover that Facebook’s ads are more bothersome than Gmail’s (not to mention much less effective).  Let’s compare.

Gmail

Email #1: Something from school.
Ad: Long Beach Local Guide.  
Relevance: I go to school in Long Beach. 

Email #2: A friend’s travel itenerary.
Ad: Upgrade to First Class
Relevance: Airlines typically have two classes: First and Coach.  First > Coach, so moving from the latter to the former would constitute an “upgrade”.  Look it up.

Email #3: A link to Tyrese’s Twitter 
Ad:  Your Zodiac Horoscope.
Relevance: The email in question declares Tyrese “the next Nostradamus.”  For some reason, in my mind, this makes sense.  Cosmic predictions or something.

 Email #4: A sent email about weekend plans.
Ad: Theplunge.com – a wedding website for men.
Relevance (I guess?): I referred to the recipient as “shnookums” in the email.  This is still a stretch.

Honorable hilarity mention: I get a lot of “Surveillance Equipment for parents, husbands, wives, businesses…” (or something similar) on Gmail too.  For this, I have no explanation.  

Facebook

Where: My profile
Ad: Happy Hour at the bar
Relevance: Approximate 3 out of 5 pieces of FB correspondence are related to happy hour.  In fact, this was the most effective of my sample ads, since it immediately had me going “Oooh, what bar?!” until it turned out to be exercise (and not alcohol) related.  To its credit, however, some recent wall posts have pertained to the gym.  So nice combo move, facebook. 

Where: News Feed (literally 9 times out of 10)
Ad: Free Credit Report
Relevance: I’m going to assume (and hope to god) Facebook doesn’t have credit history information, so I can only assume that this is the company’s preferred advertising vehicle, or this has something to do with my age (in my 20s?)

Where (part 1 of 2): My profile
Ads: Meet Great Singles Now (all kinds of different sites, different wording, etc.)
Relevance:  My relationship status at the time was “single”.  These ads annoyed me so much that I ended up taking down the status entirely.  Until…

Where (part 2 of 2): My profile
Ads: Is your boyfriend cheating on you?
Relevance: My relationship status now is “in a relationship”.  Alarmist much, facebook? 

Where: Eric’s profile
Ad: White Party at the Playboy Mansion
Relevance: Eric is totally pimp like that.  

Conclusion: Facebook’s ads are either totally random or just really poorly done.  I’d like to rule out “random” citing the difference between ads based on relationship status.  Regardless, they’re disappointing at best and scary at worst.

Gmail’s, on the other hand, appear to be relevant and actually useful (although not without exception).

Regardless, they both kind of creep me out since some googlebot out there is clearly reading my emails and checking in on every personal info change.  Hopefully it’s just a bot since a real person would probably  be super bored by the lack of illicit communications.  But in the end, they’re not bothersome enough to make me stop using either service (so long as I can continue ignoring certain apps and status updates on FB and Gmail continues to do such a great job of conversation organizing).

Tip to both companies:  More ads about Steven Seagal.  I can’t seem to stop talking about that dude, you’re missing out on a great opportunity here.

Am I forgetting any other service that does the targeted ad thing?  Or any more great contrasting examples between the nuances of email and advertising’s electronic “best-guest” of what you mean?

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