My Phone Is Tracking Me and Why It Matters

by Clara Jacob
May 29, 2019 • 3 minute read

The first time I became fully aware that my phone was watching me was after a nice meal at an Italian restaurant in Los Angeles with my son.

An hour after eating, still thinking about the gnocchi with pesto sauce I’d just had, I checked my Instagram feed.

There was an ad for Walmart’s frozen gnocchi with pesto sauce.

Until then, I’d felt more targeted by advertisers than trolled. But the gnocchi pesto was too specific to be a coincidence.

If you have a heartbeat and a mobile device, you’ve probably had something similar happen to you.

And if you’re a marketer, you’ve probably tried to figure out how you can harness that power for your clients, only to be told that it’s not possible.

Impressive but Ultimately a Fail

Going back to the gnocchi ad—it was definitely targeted. But it bombed. Why?

  1. I had just enjoyed delicious Italian food in an intimate, family-owned restaurant, complete with a conversation about sauces with the chef.
  2. Why would I be ready for more pesto gnocchi an hour after eating? Poor timing.
  3. Who would want to eat frozen pesto gnocchi from Walmart after enjoying the real thing? Sorry to be a snob, but there it is.
  4. I don’t shop at Walmart. Ever.
  5. While visiting my son in Los Angeles—which offers every retail experience imaginable—why would I go to Walmart?
  6. It creeped me out.

Understanding how this happened is a topic for another day (Audio? Image recognition? Debit card data?). Let’s just say that if your targeting is too obvious to the consumer, you may have failed.

The Slippery Surveillance Slope

I’ve pretty much accepted that I have no privacy (although I did unplug and stash my Echo Dot after Alexa spoke to me from the other room). I just assume that my devices track what I do.

Not that long ago, this would have been called paranoia. But now it’s just reality. And what’s weird is that I’m kind of okay with it.

I think it started when I realized that no matter what I did, I was part of some demographic or psychographic that behaved exactly the same way. I wasn’t unique, and my individuality didn’t matter.

And like everyone else, I’ve handed over all sorts of information about myself in order to use mobile devices, digital apps and various services.

We’ve been assured that our data won’t be used improperly. But if you believe that, I have some Russian Facebook ads to sell you.

Another Complete Miss

I participate in a school-based mentoring program and meet weekly with a nine-year-old in the school library.

A couple of weeks ago we had a short talk about braces. She said her sister thinks she needs braces, and I shared my adolescent horror stories involving braces.

You know what comes next. Ads for braces on my Facebook feed—mobile AND desktop, impressively, for 13 days and counting. Which is a total fail because I am absolutely not in the market for braces.

Given how much Facebook and its partners knows about me, there’s really no excuse for such poor targeting and wasteful spending.

And Another, That’s Ubiquitous

Let’s say I research a product online. Maybe wireless earbuds. During this consideration phase, ads for wireless earbuds dog me everywhere I go, as they should.

However, after I buy those earbuds, the ads continue for another three weeks—including ads from the retailer that sold me the earbuds.

For the entire three weeks, I am reminded again and again how that retailer is wasting money or is not digitally savvy. And this negatively affects my perception of that brand.

Why Isn’t AI More I?

I mentioned that Facebook knows a lot about me. So do Netflix, Twitter and Instagram. And Amazon knows more about me than my best friend does.

You’d think that any of them would know what to sell me, but no. Twitter has pegged me as a male tech guru. Facebook advertisers think I sew and want to participate in “neighborly competitions with landscaping and holiday lights,” which is hilariously off base. Netflix won’t let go of the idea that I like comedies.

Amazon not only suggests I buy another Echo Dot (see above), but encourages me to buy books like celebrity biographies that I would never read.

Now that I’ve sacrificed my privacy, can’t these companies do a better job? The truth is that we’ve been so conditioned to accept machine learning and artificial intelligence that it’s irritating when it doesn’t happen.

The upside is that apparently we don’t have to worry about the Singularity happening anytime soon.

The Takeaway for Agri-marketers

In the ag market, we know that building trust, as a brand, is extremely important.

  • Let’s think about the ways our customers might feel about how we’re marketing to them—and what that says about the brand.
  • Let’s use our high tech tools judiciously. Creepiness is not a desirable brand attribute.
  • Let’s remember that farmers, maybe more than any other market, can spot insincerity and deception a mile away. Honesty and transparency are always the best policies.

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