The life of a consumer has evolved in so many ways over the last century and has taken on many forms and has had many purposes. One could consume out of necessity, out of an abundance of wealth, out of the urge to prove something. It is obvious though, that at a certain point buying things was no longer on just the consumer’s terms – their actions came to be based on targeted advertising, marketing schemes, societal expectations, and a culture of consumerism. Technological advancements have managed to compile and amplify all these motivations into one super-tool. Advertising algorithms, on social media specifically, have singled out the consumer and perpetuated a society full of individualistic priorities and consumeristic tendencies.
Algorithms are so specific to each person – tailored to fit every previous internet search, social media like, and craigslist post. It truly is an art form in how ‘perfectly’ the algorithm targets each consumer. You buy one pair of slippers for a friend’s Christmas gift, and the next thing you know you are seeing ads for three different kinds of slippers, bathrobes, and sweatpants on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. As a consumer, it can be convenient to see these advertisements, so later one when shopping there are references and you know exactly where to start or have an idea of what you are looking for. These algorithms manage to simulate the perfect fit of advertisements and products that make the target audience feel seen, in a perverse sort of way.
But, is the specificity and accuracy of a combination of zeros and ones also an invasion of privacy? Many people have begun to feel this way and as a result, there are ad blocker extensions, privacy and safety software, and even browsers that do not profile their users at all. These products have been made as a means of escape – an escape from always being seen as a set of data and browser cookies to analyze. So many people crave the idea of being an individual that they do not care about privacy as a necessity anymore – they have made sacrifices to the proverbial god of capitalism in exchange for feeling seen. An entity that makes people rely on superficial things instead of ideas and people.
As with everything in life, there are choices and subsequent consequences. The art form that is advertising algorithms truly toes the line between ‘advertising’, or giving the consumer what they want, and a complete invasion of privacy, which is a legitimate crime. Whether or not it is a crime ultimately depends on the consumer – or the target audience – and what their view is on privacy. How has society become so tuned in to every individual that the very decision of whether something can be considered a crime is contingent on the different values of every single person in that society? The rising importance of technology in everyday life mixed with raised concerns about privacy has certainly made for interesting conversations and ideas. The priorities of every generation evolve naturally, but one consistent trend throughout the years has been the increasingly stressed importance of the individual and consuming mass amounts of everything – media, clothes and other physical things, and information. Because of this, people are willing to sacrifice their own privacy and information in order to attain those two things.