The Markup analyzed a database of 650,000 audience segments used by advertisers to target consumers based on specific information and inferences.
The segments include sensitive information like being “heavy purchasers” of pregnancy test kits, having an interest in brain tumors, being prone to depression, visiting places of worship, and feeling “easily deflated” or getting a “raw deal out of life.” The database sheds light on how personal data collected from online activity and real-world movements is combined into customized groups for targeted advertising. Some of the segments are categorized as “Affluent Millennials” or “Dunkin Donuts Visitors,” while others focus on specific interests, demographics, or health conditions.
Privacy researchers and civil liberties advocates express concerns about the potential misuse of such targeted advertising, especially regarding sensitive topics like reproductive health. The database includes segments related to various medical conditions, including atrial fibrillation, diabetes, migraines, depression, and more. Race and ethnicity are frequently targeted demographic factors in the segments, with categories like African-American, Hispanic, Asian, and others. Political beliefs, activities, and issues are also targeted through segments, such as gun control, immigration, LGBTQ rights, and specific political candidates. Psychological profiles and lifestyle preferences, including interests, hobbies, and personality traits, are used to group consumers for targeted advertising. Location-based targeting is prevalent, with segments based on where individuals shop, work, visit government offices, or attend specific events.
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