The origin of this post comes from a random observation I made earlier today on how fascinating and disturbing targeted ads can be. But first, some context.
Over the past year, I've been doing a lot more hiking. Although most trails are well marked, it's always good to have some way to navigate in case you miss a turn. For remote locations with limited connectivity, one of the best ways to navigate, other than paper maps, is to download the trail GPX files and view them using a mapping application offline. This is just what I've been doing on my Surface Duo with the help of AllTrails and OSMAnd+. That setup and workflow are a post on its own, but I'll leave that for another time. While that's worked extremely well, there are some downsides to it. For starters, the Surface Duo is not exactly the smallest or most rugged device so it can be cumbersome to handle while on the trail. That means I have to be extra careful to keep it from falling on rocks or off a cliff. Having navigation turned on also drains the phone battery, which is less than ideal in the event I were to need the phone for an emergency. Therefore, I started looking for an alternative navigation solution.
After significant research, I landed on a wearable device with offline mapping capabilities, specifically the Garmin Fenix 6. Although I've had my eye on this device for the past few months, I couldn't justify paying full price for it. Fast-forward to this past week. For work, I recently published some articles on Kubernetes. Around the same time, as part of Father's Day & Amazon Prime Day sales, the price of the device dropped significantly enough for me to buy it. This leads us to the main point of this post.
While looking at my Twitter feed, I ran into this gem.
Coincidence? I think not! It's fascinating to see how hyper-specific ads are based on things I'm interested in. In this case it's harmless. I'm always up for learning a thing or two about Kubernetes and if I get the chance to win this watch, count me in! The disturbing part is, what else does it know about me and how is that information being used? Depending on where on the spectrum of fascinated / disturbed you land on, one way to control the amount of information shared is through the privacy settings. Unfortunately privacy settings only go so far and visibility into who has what data is limited. Maybe it's wishful thinking but it'd be great to have a tool that provides more insights and control over what data is shared and with whom. Personally, I think whether targeted ads / recommendations are good or bad is not black or white. If it's something I'm already doing or looking into, it'd be nice to be presented with options to include as part of my research. On the other hand, if those recommendations / targeted ads are exploiting information from my interests to manipulate my behavior, that's not right. Where that line is drawn though is not always clear and often personal.
In the meantime though, all I can say is, stay classy targeted ads!