It’s no surprise that most mystery authors’ search histories are alarming. After all, they contain deep dives into sundry murder methods, plausible alibis, inventive ways to dispose of pesky bodies, and oh so much more.
Although I’m sure I’m on some kind of watch list, I don’t fear the proverbial knock on the door so much as targeted ads and news recommendations based on my search history, purely for their annoyance factor.
After watching a true crime program about cruise ship murders, I trolled the internet for ship-shape crimes. Now my newsfeed is filled with stories about people falling from ship balconies. (I expect to read about a chocolate fountain drowning any day.)
Then there was the time a vintage true crime podcast inspired me to scour Google for more information. Which in turn inspired Google to serve up ads featuring axes, scythes, plow sharpeners and getaways to country houses decorated in Early American Horror.
Targeted advertising isn’t limited to crime, of course. Big Data uses our web history, viewing habits, geography, age and even names to serve up ads and articles marketers believe will inspire purchases. This has spawned not only “swagvertising” with clothes emblazoned with our names and astrological signs, but also digital cookies that dunk us in a giant vat of programmatic content that stalks us across the internet’s landscape.
Even companies are at risk for this kind of data-driven creepiness. Ad bots serve up promos by combing through news copy, sometimes to cringe-worthy effect. Case in point: an article about a horrific earthquake interrupted by animated meteors to promote a disaster movie.
My online habits have provided rich fodder for marketers. Google searches, emails and social media scrolls about topics including the royal family, dental plaque and whether jeans should be tucked into boots have yielded an onslaught of ads with varying degrees of relevance. The upside: I now know what Meghan Markle likes for breakfast, why I should do This One Simple Trick to look younger, and which dental schools would like me to apply and start my exciting new future now!
These kind of ads are relentless and ubiquitous. And usually ill-timed.
My favorite example is a friend whose online work presentation was accompanied by ads promoting undergarments guaranteed to give her a bigger backside.
Cue the awkward silence as she tried to switch browsers and minimize ads that popped up in the world’s most embarrassing game of digital Whack-A-Mole.
Had she searched for ways to pad her frame? Maybe. Maybe not. The important thing is that she’s almost guaranteed to receive some kind of prosthetic derriere from work friends for Christmas.
Her experience has instilled a real and persistent fear in me. I now wonder if my presentations will be accompanied by images of my books, articles about arsenic, news about dismemberment or ads for rashes. Time and the gods of advertising will tell.
Of course, there is a positive in all this. The idea of targeted ads based on someone’s habits seems ready-made for a mystery or thriller. Maybe a murder victim’s search history includes research into stalking laws. Maybe a suspect’s Facebook feed is peppered with promotions for exotic knives. Maybe the police find text ads for self-defense courses on the phone of the victim of what appears to be a tragic car accident. The possibilities—and the plot lines—are endless.
What about you, dear friends? Have you fallen victim to annoying targeted ads? Do you have any funny stories to share?
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