I’ve been a loyal Pandora user for the better part of a decade now, and the company has gotten to know me pretty well over the years. But over the last year, in particular, I’ve seen a number of ads for the dating website Match.com.
I don’t know why they think I’m still looking. Maybe it’s because I still listen to UB40.
Anyways, I didn’t really think anything of it at the time. But look at the girls: they’re pretty uniform in appearance: white, in their 20’s, with straight hair. And though Match has plenty of pictures of attractive women, they kept on showing me pictures of girls that pretty-much look the same as these girls.
There is one older girl in the lower left, but otherwise it’s the same group wit the same traits.
I didn’t even realize I was being profiled until a few months ago. I went to a Punch Brothers concert and created a few bluegrass and country stations. I also downloaded the android app.
Immediately after downloading the android app, the Match ads changed.
I wasn’t seeing the same girls over and over again anymore. I was now seeing their moms! Well, probably their moms’ younger sisters. But still.
I was surprised when I saw these ads: I hadn’t even been conscious that I had been specifically targeted with ads before, but now I realized that all those images were targeting different audiences. I originally thought the main driver of the change what that the ad server realized I had an Android, but after researching, it seems that Android is known to have a younger audience than the iPhone. So I figured that I had changed how I was targeted by listening to different types of music. And if I could change who they thought a am once, I could do it again.
So I did.
I listened to a mix of hip-hop and country for the next week. That led to this ad for (young) Christian Singles:
I also saw a few filler ads for mail-order brides and the like, though I imagine that they are just remnant spots and unlikely to be the result of specific targeting.
So how accurate is all this targeting? Anecdotally, I thought it was only ok. The initial ads (before I started manipulated my music to fool them) didn’t show me girls that were unattractive. But I had no interest in almost any of the activities listed in the first ad (what, you didn’t notice they listed their interests?). And they never would have shown me the girl I ended up with.
I will say I am impressed with how quickly classification changes were made. Clearly ads were not just served based on what station I was listening to at the time: they were based on someone’s (very incomplete) profile of me.
More generally, I’m fascinated that music could be used to determine who we might be attracted to.