David Frum

02.15.13

Facebook Knows Too Much

On social media platforms, advertisements are usually relevant to that person’s account. This, of course, is not a coincidence, as many of these sites gather data about people in order to push certain advertisements that they know will spark interest. The methodology behind this personalized marketing strategy is intriguing, albeit questionable.

In understanding how the brain processes information — any information, not just ads — researchers often draw on the The Limited Capacity Model of Motivated Mediated Message Processing, or LC4MP, a theory used to explain our limited capacity for cognitive processing.

LC4MP essentially says that for any type of message our brain is doing three things simultaneously — encoding, storing and split between the three. To make things even more complicated, this information digestion happens automatically or can be controlled — and you don't get to "choose" which one your brain is going to do.

Advertisers "want automatic encoding to happen," says Potter, in order to bypass the part where you decide whether or not you're going to encode the message…Advertising is about developing a relationship with a brand, but the first step is always getting your attention.

"If you're Orkin [pest control], you better have a picture of big old cockroach up there," says Potter, "because your brain has evolved to automatically encode it as a negative image." Negative encoding, from an advertiser's perspective, is still better than no encoding at all.

OkCupid, the online dating site, has created their own system of collecting data in order to have product placement based on what you write on your profile. While the site says they aggregate the data, rather than link it to an individual person, many have complained about the privacy issues.

Combosaurus, the venture in question, tests all the data entered into OkCupid by users to see what clusters together. If advertisers can gain access to such deeply personal information, it would revolutionize the way they reach consumers.

"OkCupid and similar sites collect extremely sensitive ... information on users, such as data about medical conditions, drug usage, and sexual preferences," Rainey Reitman, activism director at the the Electronic Frontier Foundation, told The Huffington Post. "Users who share this information are doing so to find relationships, likely not realizing the data will be mined for marketing purposes."