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Why do contextual ads fail?

Mike Elgan | Oct. 7, 2014
Companies like Google, Facebook and Amazon violate our privacy in order to show us relevant ads. So why do their ads miss the mark?

Everyone on Google+ has a Notifications view. In my experience, half of my notifications are relevant -- showing the kind of content I want -- and half of them couldn't possibly be relevant to anyone.

How is that even possible? I use Google services every day, from Google+ and YouTube to Google News and Google Search and much more. How could Google possibly have no idea what I'm interested in?

Facebook seems fine, until you learn what it's holding back from your News Feed. Here's something to try: Pick any close family member who you know is on Facebook and go look at their posts. You'll notice lots of posts you've never seen before -- the ones that Facebook's algorithms have filtered out from your News Feed. Did it do a good job of knowing which posts you wanted? Or did it filter out as "noise" posts that you actually wanted to see. Now compare those against the posts Facebook did deliver. Astonishing, isn't it?

The ugly reality is that we have granted permission for companies like Google, Facebook and Amazon to have access to countless points of personal data, from our location and our actions to our relationships and our interests. And we did it in exchange for relevant advertising and content.

We're doing our part. Why can't the personal-data-harvesting companies do theirs?

The problem isn't that we're giving up all our personal data. The problem is that we're giving it up for nothing.


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