Written by Cory Healy on May 19, 2017
Riddle me this: how does an old 'acquaintance' from several years ago suddenly ago pop up on your recommended friends section on Facebook?
Answer: it comes from data; data that you agreed to share in the Terms of Service on dating sites. Dating sites are just one of many ways that people can be reacquainted digitally. Data from Facebook and social circles can determine who else was in your elementary school. That 'Which Hogwarts House Are You?' quiz that you take in exchange for giving personal info can be sold to third-party advertising conglomerates. Data is set to become the single largest commodity, eventually overtaking oil.
All of this data is gleaned from your cookies, which is then farmed to recommendation engines.
A recommendation engine filters items online by predicting how you would rate them based on your data blueprint. For example, when you click on an NYCDA video, you start getting targeted ads that correlate to your behavior. This is in part thanks to cookies, which is a bit of information saved by your web browser to recognize your device, should you come back to the website in the future.
Tracking on mobile apps doesn't use traditional browser cookies; instead, they use either Identifiers For Advertisers (IDFAs) for iOS devices and Advertising ID for Android. You can keep cookie info out of your browser history and advertisers’ hands in incognito mode, though that still won’t prevent your browsing from being seen by employers, internet service providers or websites you visit.
Over time, cookies can be used to recommend targeted ads or products based on your search history. This recommender gets smarter with the more cookies it has on the tab from your computer history. If you read a lot of articles about skiing, for example, you may end up seeing ads for ski lodges everywhere—including on sites that you visit for the first time.
Thankfully machines are much less judgmental about your questionable 3 a.m. Google searches than you mom would be.