Advertising products and services has changed significantly since social networks and mobile apps became a reality. For instance, users are tracked throughout the internet, their behaviour is traced, their preferences are stored, they live an online life they are not always aware of.
There has been a lot of comment on the risks associated with online advertising. There are real privacy concerns but that is just the tip of the iceberg. People are influenced by a number of factors and, in particular, by the combination of the promotion of products / services they are interested in, and the websites actually surfed and displaying ads: this is the so called "targeted advertising" and, in short, it is not always clear-cut how online advertising works and who benefits from it.
How does targeted advertising work?
Users are usually "tracked-down" through the dynamic IP addresses of their device and other related information (such as user ID, user agents, etc.). Of course the same device can be used by different people, so the data collected would then be associated with more than one individual and the generated profile would be that of a group rather than of an individual. Yet people usually use their own device, so information associated with the IP address is likely to be representative of the user of it.
By surfing the Internet, clicking a banner, selecting an item, opening a page, the user gets analysed: his/her preferences will be proposed again in the future and they will be associated with specific categories of individuals, as defined by the online advertising product-chain (including publishers, media agencies / centres, web monitoring service providers, etc.).
Website users are monitored mainly by the cookies ̶ markers tracing where the users go and what they do. This is the key tool behind online advertising. To use such information, websites need to comply with the law, in particular with legislation concerning privacy. The users have the right to be informed when advertising cookies are put on their devices and their consent is collected.
Apps are a separate environment that is not able to communicate with other environments without the users' authorization. The users are linked to an ID number provided by the apps store, so the user's behaviour is traced throughout the app. Apps providers usually communicate the user's ID to advertising partners that provide analytics and identify the users as belonging to specific categories of...