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Weapons of Math Destruction (First Year Read, 2021)

A guide to the 2021 First Year Read pick, Weapons of Math Destruction by Cathy O'Neil.

You as a Target

“We are ranked, categorized, and scored in hundreds of models, on the basis of our revealed preferences and patterns. This establishes a powerful basis for legitimate ad campaigns, but it also fuels their predatory cousins: ads that pinpoint people in great need and sell them false or overpriced promises. They find inequality and feast on it. The result is that they perpetuate our existing social stratification, with all of its injustices. The greatest divide is between the winners in our system, like our venture capitalist, and the people his models prey upon.” (p 70)

Targeted Advertising Methods

How advertisers help you buy their products:

  • Tailored advertising: strategies for using your previous behavior to advertise to you across platforms, including:
    • Retargeting: giving you ads on an unaffiliated platform for items you looked at on their website.
    • Viewed content advertising: using your browsing behavior to give you ads for items in which you might be interested.
    • Interest-based advertising: collecting data across domains to better inform ad placement.
  • Lookalike: giving you ads based on what people like you have bought (common on Facebook).

Definitions based on the glossaries linked below.


Targeted Ads in Action