The New York Times is selling your emotions

Did you know that your emotions are now a sellable metric? That’s the case if you’re a reader of The New York Times, at least, which announced in April that they’ve been tracking emotions felt by their readers using machine learning and surveys. From their year’s worth of data collection, the Times has identified 30 emotions that people feel when they read news articles. Of those 30, 18 are available to advertisers to purchase, according to AdWeek.

    The 18 “emotions” are:
  • Adventurous
  • Amused
  • Bored
  • Competitive
  • Fearful
  • Feeling love
  • Happy
  • Hateful
  • Hopeful
  • In the mood to spend
  • Indulgent
  • Informed
  • Inspired
  • Interested
  • Nostalgic
  • Optimistic
  • Sad
  • Self-confident

The goal of emotion-based advertising is to not only hit readers with ads when they’re most likely to respond to them, but also to make sure that advertisements are more clearly aligned with the articles on which they’re featured. For example, you probably don’t want to see an ad for a new baby toy on an article about black maternal death rates. Or maybe a piece about anorexia shouldn’t include diet ads. You get the idea.

And while the Times isn’t the only publication to start ad-targeting based on emotions — USA Today has been doing this since 2017 and the Daily Beast as a similar program in development — it’s certainly the most established publication to do so. The cutesy name the new organization gave this program — “Project Feels” — doesn’t take away from the fact that letting advertisers “buy” our emotions feels creepy at best, Orwellian at worst.

If you don’t want the Times (or any other publication) to hit you with emotion-based ads, your best move is to use an ad blocker, because it doesn’t matter how targeted ads are if you can’t see them! Ad blockers not only take all of the ads out of your online experience, but also make it so pages load faster. And while some people in journalism argue that this hurts publications because the industry relies on ads, it seems like fair game if they’re going to target based on emotions.

And if targeted advertisements creep you out more generally, there are some steps you can take there, too. First of all, consider using a private browser like Tenta. Private browsers keep advertisers (and your ISP and the government and cyber criminals) from tracking your online activity at all.

Another move you can make is not allowing websites to use cookies to track you. But a lot of sites use cookies for legitimate reasons that help make accessing their site easier. So if you don’t want (or can’t) block all cookies, you can at least disable third parties (like social media sites) tracking.

Online advertising isn’t going anywhere and, if anything, it’s likely to only become more invasive as our technology gets more advanced. But that doesn’t mean that you have to blindly accept any and all moves that the advertisement industry makes. Push back. Protect yourself. Because if our attention and emotions are already for sale, what’s next?

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