Have you ever done some online shopping and then open your Instagram or Snapchat account and see an advertisement for the same item?

Today, the two most popular things in our society are social media and online shopping. Over the years, we have become aware of how social media platforms and online shopping are linked. For example, you may find yourself going on the Internet to find shoes for your cousin’s wedding coming up. After browsing online for those shoes, you conveniently stumble upon advertisements for the type of shoe you were looking for. How did my Instagram know that I was looking for these? Advertisements of previous online shopping later pop up on various social media accounts. The advertisements that pop up are incredibly targeted and accurate in previous searches. It’s as if they are watching us.

H&M advertisement shown on Instagram after a student visited the site earlier

As information has come out over the years, we have learned that the reason behind advertisements coming up for products previously searched has much to do with cookies. Cookies are collected by companies that are used to compile data that is directed to our devices. The marketers’ main intention in these ads is to stay persistent with showing the product on specific platforms, so the customer will continue to buy from them. The ethics of these marketing strategies have certainly raised eyebrows over the past decade. Many consumers have questioned the effects on privacy and protection of information. 

Personalized UGG advertisement from Instagram

After you buy something from a website, you usually give the company your email for shipping updates. Most times, that email is connected to your social media as well. This is because these companies are collecting data on their specific product: you. The company can show personalized advertisements on those platforms tailored to your interests that are curated through analyzing your individual data. 

An example of a curated advertisement on Snapchat based off a past web search

If this marketing technique makes you uneasy, your next thought could be how to prevent this. Unfortunately, there is no way to completely stop it because this is a massive part of the marketing industry. However, there are ways that you can prevent it from occurring as often. Specific search engines, such as DuckDuckGo, will protect your searches in a Private Browser form. Additionally, you can clear your cookies and search history to be more challenging to be electronically tracked. While tech companies have attempted to become more transparent, there still remains a lot of unanswered questions of who is really behind the screen and what they are doing with that information.