While we browse the Internet and log into social networks, advertisers are using this behavioural information to serve us more targeted ads based on our preferences.
This is not necessarily a secret, but until now it has been difficult to to figure out exactly which organisations are watching us.
Floodwatch is a Chrome extension that tracks the ads you have seen in your online history. It was created by The Office For Creative Research and independent privacy and security research Ashkan Soltani.
The tool catalogues the ads you are served into an easy-to-understand visualisation to give you information about the quantity and kinds of ads you are seeing.
One of the creators of the tool, Jer Thorp, told FastCo.Design that he is not actually against targeted advertising but he wants to raise the understanding of the kind of things advertisers know about Internet users.
He adds: “Really, the sticky point for me is that a large percentage of the data that is being used to ‘customise’ is not being given voluntarily. Personally, I’m really not ok with that, and I believe a lot of people would complain about these practices if they knew more about them.”
Here’s how it works:
Install the Floodwatch app from the Chrome web store.
Sign up to Floodwatch account (you can also choose if you want to share your information back with the researchers so they can learn even more about how advertising is targeted to individuals.)
Browse the internet as you usually would. It will take a few hours to get up and running (notice how a Floodwatch icon has appeared in the top-right corner).
Visit the Floodwatch dashboard at any time to view every ad you’ve been served.
You can visualise the ads by publishers, theme and colour.
Slowly you will be able to build up a good idea of the profile ad networks have on you. You can also compare how the ads may have been different were you a different age, gender or had a different profession based on the data Floodwatch has collected from other users.
Of course, there are plenty of other (less visual) tools out there that can also give you an idea of your advertising profile, like Google’s Ad Settings, for example (although apparently Google thinks I’m a 25-34-year-old male).
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