Top tips is a weekly column where we highlight what’s trending in the tech world today and list ways to explore these trends. This week, we’ll discuss two ways to avoid falling prey to algorithm-driven ads.

When it comes to material possessions, we like what we see. These days, we see a lot and want it all.

Gone are the days when TV or radio commercials influenced what you bought and where you bought it. Now, personalized online ads use AI algorithms that monitor and learn from your online behavior. Unlike commercials, these ads are hard to avoid and, in the long run, can shape your online purchasing habits.

Let’s say you liked a handbag you saw on a friend. You search for the bag online. Later, you’re scrolling on social media and seeing ads for the bag you saw—not just one or two, but multiple ads from different sellers boasting different price points. You may have decided not to buy the bag initially, but after seeing all of these ads, you change your mind. This is exactly what the algorithm aims to achieve.

Retailers today track your online behavior, using context and demographic data to feed you hundreds and thousands of ads.

In this tech and algorithm-driven world, how can you stay mindful and aware of what’s going on and make the online purchases you actually need or want? 

1. Awareness is the first step

You can’t fight what you don’t know. The first step of overcoming the influence of online algorithms is by first knowing and understanding the psychology behind targeted marketing. This will help you notice where you are getting manipulated and stop yourself from falling prey to these algorithms. However, this is easier said than done. 

Retailers use targeted ads, personalized recommendations, and behavioral nudges to drive sales. AI is changing prices of products and services in real time based on things like demand, stock levels, and the user’s buying history. This can make people pay more for items they are likely to buy or encourage them to purchase certain products.

Being aware of these methods and understanding how companies manipulate consumer behavior will help you stay strong against algorithm-driven ads. 

2. Advocate for transparency and responsible AI practices

What you can learn from personalized ads is that your data is being exploited for the profit of companies. When consumers don’t advocate for their data to be used ethically, it will continue to be exploited by companies.

As a consumer, you can: 

  • Try to purchase from companies that use your data ethically.

  • Opt out of personalization if such an option exists in your shopping apps.

  • Understand what personal information is being collected, for what purpose, and who can access it.

  • If you believe your data is being misused, reach out to the retailer and voice your concerns.

Raising your voice against the misuse of personal data will pave the way for personal data regulation and ethical AI practices at an enterprise level.

A final word

Your personal online data is being used to manipulate your offline behavior, including how you make unplanned purchases. Giving out your personal data might seem harmless at first, but in the long run, algorithms can lead to you spending money where you didn’t intend to. So, be aware of what’s going on around you and continuously advocate for ethical data processing practices.