The internet is awash in advertising, and many are now working to turn that data into valuable insights.
But what happens when that data isn’t being used for the right reasons?
What if it’s used to target ads to people who already have a lot of money in their bank accounts?
That’s what a team of researchers at the University of Cambridge and at Microsoft have been trying to figure out.
They’ve developed a new tool that lets them figure out if a website or ad is actually being used to generate revenue for a company or business, or whether a site or ad could actually make them money.
To create their study, the Cambridge researchers used data from Google Trends to look at what keywords were trending on the site or app and how often people clicked on them.
They also looked at the number of unique visitors to those sites, looking at how often a person visited each of them.
They then used the data to create a map of the ads that people clicked onto and found ads were being used most frequently.
The map showed that the ads people were clicking on were most likely being targeted at people who have a ton of money, people with relatively high income and people with lower income.
“People click on these ads for a variety of reasons, not just because they want to buy something or because they’re interested in the product, but because they think the site is cool, they like the ads, and they like to be part of the conversation,” says co-author Peter Johnson, who leads the team at the Centre for Online Studies at the university.
The results are fascinating.
While there was a trend towards more ads being targeted to the wealthier people, people at the lowest income level were far more likely to click on the ads for free.
The researchers think this could be because people are more likely than others to be able to afford the ads they’re looking at, so they’ll have more disposable income to spend on them when they click.
“It could be that people who are better off than others are more motivated to click the ads on the lower-income people,” says Johnson.
The team also noticed that people with higher income and those who have higher incomes were much more likely when they did click on ads to buy a product.
The adverts were more likely if they were promoting a product they own, a hobby or a hobby of their own.
This suggests that the people who click on those ads are likely to be buying products from a company that they know well.
But how could they know?
They could simply look at how many people have visited the site and seen ads that appeared.
“The fact that we can use the same kind of tools that we used to analyse what people do with ads in the real world, and apply them to this kind of ad space, is very interesting,” says Alex Gresham, who co-authored the paper with his colleague Paul Williams.
The next step is to make the data more accessible so people can look at it themselves and make more informed decisions about what’s best for them.
“There are lots of reasons why people might want to invest in an ad space,” says Gresman.
“I think it’s important to be aware of what people are actually paying for and why they’re buying.”
“This is really exciting work,” says Paul Williams, who was not involved in the research.
“What’s exciting about it is that the team has made a very high-quality, open-source data set, which can be used for anything from data-mining to analysis.
It’s going to be interesting to see how this plays out.”