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Wednesday, April 17, 2024
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Online, but off target

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FOR technophobe codgers such as myself, one of the more irritating internet features these days is targeted advertising.  

You know the sort of thing – you’re idly mooching online, looking for hints about sharpening your secateurs. Next thing you know, you’re bombarded with a vast panoply of ‘garden living’ offers from B & Q. Forget pruning the roses – you need a gazebo, a hot tub and a fire pit.  

I don’t know how it’s done, but I assume one of those dreaded algorithms is constantly monitoring what we’re writing, surfing, browsing and buying, then reacting accordingly – like a Venus flytrap snapping shut on a hapless insect.  

The marketing guff to justify these annoying intrusions is probably something like: ‘We’re enhancing your holistic experience by informing you of products designed to add value to your lifestyle.’ Or in layman’s terms: ‘We’re spying on you to try to flog you stuff.’  

When I acquired my first PC more than 25 years ago, adverts would suddenly flash up on the screen out of nowhere, often blanking out whatever I was looking at. I was sometimes so carpet-bombed by the bloody things that the only way to clear them was to switch off and do a reboot.  

Such outrageous cyber-blitzing doesn’t seem to happen nowadays. Instead, it’s become more subtle. A few months ago, adverts starting popping up in the inbox of my Outlook email account (formerly Hotmail), looking at first glance like ordinary messages.  

Apparently, this sneaky infiltration is ‘an experiment that Microsoft is carrying out in terms of ad delivery’. There is no apparent option to stop the ads coming – you can’t block them or mark them as junk or phishing.  All you can do is whack-a-mole them as they appear.  

I suppose you can’t blame the Microsoft marketeers for foisting these ads on us. After all, they’re giving us a free email account and they’ve got to make a living over there in Silicon Valley. I’m also acutely aware of the parlous state of Bill Gates’s finances. I know he doesn’t run the company any longer, but he still has a small stake in it and he’s down to his last £100billion.  

That said, whatever algorithm is directing ads to me must have got its binary strings in a twist, because it isn’t doing much of a job in tailoring its products to my wants and needs. Recent irrelevant ads in the Getley inbox include:  

1. An invitation to the Wild Wadi Water Park in Dubai. (Don’t they know I’m scared of flying, hate heat and can’t swim?)  

2. Tentalows – glorified glamping pods in Camp Olowalu, Hawaii. (See above, with knobs on).  

3. A Margaret Dabbs Professional Foot File – ‘the Rolls-Royce of foot files’. (Even clipping my toenails is an ordeal for me. Why on earth would I want to file my feet?)  

4. A Preston Pole Grip – ‘holds your pole close to hand.’ (They’re talking about fishing rods, I hope. Trouble is, I haven’t been fishing since catching tadpoles with a net when I was five.)  

5. Safefence 360-litre spill containment kit with a yellow or blue wheelie bin. (I know I can be rather messy drinking tea, but a 360 litre spill containment? Talk about OTT).  

6. Niceday acid-free tissue paper to ‘protect my delicate and valuable belongings.’ (My delicate and valuable belongings? How did they know about my handmade silk boxers?).  

 7. Sealants Online – mastics, foams and fillers. (Well, they might help, because Nivea For Men isn’t doing much for my cracked complexion lately).  

Then there are the offers of bronze shower heads (what if one drops on my toe?), three-bay shelving units (too big for my Brooke Bond British Freshwater Fish picture card collection), double glazing (my windows are already triple-glazed) and endless conservatories and home extensions (how do they know I don’t live on the 30th floor of a high-rise?)  

As you can gather, all the stuff they’re trying to sell me is about as much use as a chocolate fireguard. It just goes to show that . . . oh, hang on, even as I type, yet another ad has just popped into my Outlook inbox. Let’s have a look what it says. Hopefully it’ll be something I can use at last.  

Not quite. It seems there are some great offers right now on chocolate fireguards.  

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Henry Getley
Henry Getley
Henry Getley is a freelance journalist.

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