Clicking your way to make someone else rich

Companies make use of surfing behaviour to selectively advertise on their page

Farrukh Zafar September 27, 2015
Companies make use of surfing behaviour to selectively advertise on their page. CREATIVE COMMONS


Last week, while paying the monthly electricity and water bill at Dubai Electricity and Water Authority’s (DEWA) website, I closely watched how seamlessly I got redirected to VISA’s Arcot platform to collect my payment and then back to DEWA.

I realised it wasn’t just the government receiving the amount billed but a third party was also monetarily benefitting from each transaction, namely VISA.

Let’s have a look at the internet’s economy and how fascinatingly it works. Something as simple as your click makes online transaction companies money.

Let’s start with web beacons. When you go to a website, there’s a good chance that it serves ads to make money. But that’s not always the case, so when you’re on an ad-free site, there’s a fair bit of chance, it’d have a small transparent 1x1 pixel image that you cannot see, tracking all your activity and what you click.

This image is called a web beacon, and its sole purpose is to track your moves on the web.

One such company is BlueKai. Interestingly, there are million-dollar companies built to spy your moves. This data is then sold to data management platforms (DMP) if the beacon company is not a DMP itself.

Curious case of the ‘like’ button

How often do you read DoubleClick on an ad? Yes, that’s a beacon from Google. Ever wondered why Facebook kept all its social plugins free of cost? All these webpages on the web, even the one which you’re at currently, has a Facebook Like button – fair enough, but why is Facebook spending this tremendous amount of resources on these billion JavaScript calls to render its ‘like’ button on each and every webpage on the deep, vast web? To get hold of the world beyond Facebook.

Publishers are happy to implant a Facebook like button on their website to measure the popularity of an article, but at the expense of helping Facebook strengthen its ad-targeting.

Your surfing habits outside Facebook, help Facebook decide what ads to show you, inside Facebook. This is how Facebook’s version of beacon works.

Vices of internet ads

A click on ads helps earn a lot of people money. Even if you do not click on any ad, you help publishers, DMPs and beacons make money from your behavioural history. Apart from the general pay per click and pay per action ads, there are pay per impression ads that earn publishers money per impression (every time the ad loads on a new page).

Your gestures, your Apple TouchID, your fingerprints, everything is part of this ‘let’s-know-you-better’ coated pill. Next, you should be thinking why Facebook bought WhatsApp for a whopping $19 billion when WhatsApp hardly generates any substantial profit. Your messages, images, videos and voice notes sent over WhatsApp in all this time should start making more sense now.

Next time you’re using a free service such as Gmail, Google Search, Google Maps, SnapChat, Facebook, Twitter, or even those job hunt sites where you post your CV for free, only to become a part of that CV farm that sells your career credentials later. Surely you’ll have a different perspective of what your click is worth.

You might be viewing a subtle promotion of a product in a pretty listicle and you wouldn’t know. That’s one part of BuzzFeed’s monetisation model, just in case you’re looking for examples.

Every file you download off the torrent sites or a file-sharing site, there’s a heavy chance that you’ve dropped the V-bomb on your machine. Yes, viruses make its inventors a lot of money, by tracking each and every move you make, by learning your behaviour, your sensitive information such as credit card details, date of birth, passwords and much more. That’s a lot of money to play in. And such sensitive data is a high resale value ‘commodity’.

Even the free VPN you use makes money by channelling everything you browse through its own datacentre IPs, or, by placing an ad here and there for you to click.

It’s a funnel – from site A to B to C to Z. In that journey, you made money for anyone who hosted you. This is the new global economy where without paying a cent off your pocket, you still contribute positively to the buying power of the capitalist system.

The writer is a co-founder of a software company in Dubai

Published in The Express Tribune, September 28th, 2015.

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M. A. Amin | 6 years ago | Reply Wonderful article.
imran | 6 years ago | Reply Wish it was this much simple to earn money ...
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