Have you ever gone to the NYT homepage and saw an ad for a nice pair of shoes that seem to fit your style perfectly?  Have you ever gotten an ad for pizza and thought, I don’t want pizza.  Why does this website think I want pizza?


Do you ever wonder what is happening in the background to make these ads perfectly fit you or show you something that seems way off base?   Claudia Perlich, Chief Scientist at Dstillery simplified what happens when you go to a site like NYT.  Essentially, someone browses with cookies enabled, information from those cookies go to an ad exchange, companies bid for the ad based on what they know about you, and if a company gets it they serve up the ad that you will see.  All this happens in the milliseconds before your pages loads.  So how do they know?


From her point of view, she is not interested in learning who you are in the real world.  This has nothing to do with who you are as a person and is just a string of numbers associated with pages you visit. Using predictive modeling algorithms, she can serve up an ad that most of people with your browser history would likely buy.  You might say she is front-running an action you will most likely take.


Since it’s all algorithms and you represent a string of numbers, how do you overlay ethics on this type of marketing?  Even knowing how these are run, I still can’t get over the creepy factor of it all.