Alexis Madrigal published an article “My Digital Shadow” in The Week last Friday describing in great detail the subterranean data collection and exchange that occurs where with every visit over a dozen companies are logging your activity, dynamically placing ads tailored just for you, and adding all of your consumption information to what she described as an “ever-growing online file about you.” We work with digital data every day and I can assure you there is no lengthy historical, Hoover-like file on even your anonymous online behavior. First, the average online cookie only lasts 45 days. Second, most companies don’t hang on to click data for longer than the life of a campaign unless they require seasonal or annual performance comparison. These two basic factors alone should put your mind at ease when contemplating the extensive digital tracks you may or may not be leaving behind.
She went on to say that “never before… has so much data been gathered about so many people for the sole purpose of selling them ads”. While ad sales is presently the primary revenue model, many media companies and online publishers collect and analyze behavior and consumption patterns for the purposes of serving the most relevant content, to inform product development, to improve 2nd and 3rd screen experiences, drive usability, make decisions about programming, and yes, to sell and serve relevant ads. Online audiences expect some level of personalization in both their content and ad consumption. That’s the “get” in the “give/get” digital equation. If you are being served an ad regardless, it stands to reason that the more relevant to your current interest the better. It’s what allows Zappos to follow you around with a discounted offer on that highly inessential yet brilliant bright orange Kate Spade clutch you just left in your cart (as an example). As long as that data is responsibly collected and applied, both users and marketers should benefit. So I say, embrace your digital shadow. It provides publishers and marketers information on how best to improve your digital experience and might just assist in the justification of unnecessary accessories from time to time.