When internet ads are reading you, shopping power is illusory.

As you leisurely peruse ads they may be looking back at you. While that’s not true for the passive experience of print advertising, the on-line world is reading you like a book even when you’re not shopping.

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Some of the techniques that on-line advertisers use are obvious. You’ve probably noticed that offers made to you are based on past choices or on keywords picked from your email or social media.

What you might not notice is that the price of products is also personalized. That’s because you fit into a demographic Ryan Calo told CBC Radio. If it appears that you will pay more, advertisers will promote a higher price says the Professor of Law at the University of Washington. One of the simplest ways of determining the price that you are willing to pay is by finding out what neighbourhood you live in through location applications on computers and phones. Other ways are more invasive.

The year-old Turnstyle Solutions Inc. assembles profiles by tracking the movement of people. They installed 200 sensors in downtown Toronto to trail cell phone users as they move through the city. That allows them to create portraits of roughly 2 million users as they go about their daily business, traveling from yoga studios to restaurants, to coffee shops, sports stadiums, hotels, and nightclubs.

While it’s illegal to collect names in Canada, cell phone users who connect through free wireless sites at coffee shops and retailers are fair game when they log on to Facebook and Twitter.

Even without profiles collected from social media, the age of users can be implied by megadata. Users who go to clubs late at night, for example, are likely to be young.

Then there is the “sucker list” says Calo. Sellers collect or buy lists of vulnerable internet users: the elderly, those with alcohol or drug problems, susceptible and naïve teenagers. In fact, we are all vulnerable to some extent because we least expect to be deceived while checking messages and postings from fiends. We don’t have our “consumer hats” on.

Nor do we expect nefarious intrusions from apps. You innocently think that nice little app you downloaded that encourages you exercise and monitor calories is your friend. Little would you expect that the coupon you received for a Snickers chocolate bar after excising is a calculation of your momentary weakness gleaned by the “free” app.

Marketers know that we are more likely to be sold a product when the seller looks like us. Knowing what you look like from pictures harvested from social media, the face of the seller can be morphed to look very familiar says professor Calo.

If the whole world is a marketplace, it may seem that the balance of power is tipped towards the consumer. That was true for the traditional marketplace where buyers can shop around. But when marketers know more about you than you do about them, consumer shopping power is illusory.

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