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How the giants of the web keep an eye on your browsing?

In the last decade, the internet has taken an important place in our daily lives, it became almost our everything. We use it to play, to socialize, to study, to have fun and earn money…

But maybe, the main “charateristic” is all this free content we find. But free does not mean bad quality. But, doing a good quality job requires a big effort and a lot of time. But also, as we say, time is money! so it requires a lot of money! so how can it be completely free?

Free content makers on the internet, are all the time in quest of followers, subscribers, consumers (call it whatever you want), because the more followers they have, the more influencer they become. Whiche allows them to transform their content to a big advertising panel. But how can they reach the more relevant and well-paying advertisers?

The advertisement industry

As said, it’s a whole industry, and like every industry it has pioneers. Guess who? The giants of the web. With a global spending of more than 300$ billion in 2019, on digital marketing, the leaders in this domain remain Google with no less than one third of revenue, followed by facebook with more than 20%.

That’s a lot of money! So we understand that these companies are doing their best to win more market share. They are looking continuously through AI, for better ways to make the advertisements more accurate and targeted, so it allows their clients (advertisers) to maximize their opportunities of reaching the best clients in the exactly wanted locations.

Why tracking you?

Let’s admit that Bob has a make-up & cosmetics company. In 2019 he made a 1M$ sales through his stores in New York. But issues started arising in the second quarter of 2020 due to Covid-19 pandemic, and Bob saw his sales dropping an was even forced to close his stores. To prevent the disaster, he thought to start delivering to his clients. He started taking orders on his facebook page. But since he has only 1000 people liking the page, he couldn’t count only on them to save his business.

Naturally, Bob taught about advertising his products. He doesn’t have a huge budget for a big advertising company, he delivers only in New York, and the major part of his clients are females between 16 and 50 years. Bob started looking for the more efficient and cheapest way to reach this range of clients. So, where can he advertise? and how can he know that the

Where to advertise?

The first question to answer seems to be a bit trivial. As said above, the answer is: the giants of the web. When you browse internet, you may notice that the majority of websites that put ads on their pages, have the same style of ads banners, which is something like this:

Ads illustration

If you click on the small triangle on the right corner, you will find something like this:

After clicking on the triangle

As you can see, it’s an ad managed by Google. In fact, Google plays the role of interface between the advertiser and the ad-area seller. In one side, the advertiser sends a request to Google about the product he wants to advertise, the target population, the target location, and the budget to spend.

On the other side, we find the ad-area seller, who subscribes to Google AdSense program, and gives information about the areas to sell on the website, and eventually the domain of interest of the website (its editorial slant). Then, Google does an AI work to match the best advertiser to the best ad-area seller.

Of course, even if Google is the biggest actor in the domain of digital advertising, there are many other actors like: Facebook, Microsoft – especially through LinkedIn, Amazon, Baidu in China etc… So, how they do to bring you as user, an accurate advertisement that may interest you as a potential client?

How? Cookie! the friendly spy

How can this tasty cookie be a spy?

In fact, for the less aware readers, in web browsing, a cookie is a file that your web browser stores in your local drive. It is used by websites to remember your preferences related to this website. For example, if a website allows you to customize its background color, if you come back to it after some days, and you find that it still keeps your background choice, you may ask how this website is still remembering my choice? The answer is: it stored your preferences in the cookie file.

So, there is nothing wrong with these cookies! more than this, they make our life easier, I don’t want to change the background color of the website every time I browse it!!!

Well, indeed! but what you should know, there are two types of cookies. Those that allow customizing the website, we call them functional cookies. But there are other cookies that we call non functional, their aim is different. They are set for statistical, social, targeting and commercial purposes.

Let’s get back to our friend, Bob. As said above, Google is the interface between the advertiser and the add-area seller. Let’s say that Alice is a webmaster. She has a blog interested in fashion and women beauty. And she wants to sell some area in its website for advertisers. For this, she subscribes for Google AdSense program. So, to start showing ads from Google, she will insert in her website some code provided by Google. And here is the hick! After this code is inserted, Google can push its own cookies through Alice’s website. We talk about third-part cookies.

Okay but what for? Well, since there are millions of websites all over the world that subscribe for Google Ads program, Google pushes its cookies through all these websites. In these cookies, every user has a unique Id number. So, whenever you browse a website, Google will know, and step by step, its AI will start recognizing your interest, your hobbies, your work, your age range, the languages you speak and of course your location…

It’s very simple to know all this if you know that cookies are not the only source of information. For example, if you have a Gmail account, your emails are read by Google bots, if you have an Android phone, Google bots know all about the apps you use, the list of your contacts, your SMS conversations, your movements, through google maps, and so on. And like this we brought answers to all Bob’s questions about the best way to target his clients.

In the end, what we said here is the tip of the iceberg. And what we don’t know is more than what people know about this topic, especially that companies other than Google may use other technics and exploit other data, like the empire of facebook for example, who has a very huge quantity of our personal data in its servers. It retains our locations, photos, conversations voices, contacts etc… through its apps, and its other companies like Instagram, and WhatsApp.

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