Advertising plays a significant role in the Internet today. Many online platforms are free for their users because they earn money from advertisements. Companies can pay advertising companies to only show their ads to a group of people, such as “girls who like sports” or “kids who watch action movies.” Advertising companies, like Google’s AdSense, collect data from users through things like their Google searches and YouTube video history, and use it to choose which ads to show. Knowing how online ads target people is a crucial part of being a smart Internet user, because then users will understand why companies are showing them certain content.
Students will be able to:
- understand that ads are used to help companies sell things.
- explain that Internet content is often free for users because it’s supported by ads.
- understand and control how advertisers use their information to choose ads to show them.
- Handout: Searches and Ads
- Video: Say? Cheese!, http://brk.mn/146
- Parent Handout: Say? Cheese!
- Introduction to Online Ads: 10 min
- Searches and Ads: 20 min
Whenever you encourage or require students to go online while teaching this or other material, please make sure any online activity is consistent with any school, district, or other applicable policies, as well as any applicable privacy laws and regulations.
Introduction to Online Ads 
- “Do you have to pay Google when you use their search engine to look for information?”
- “Do you have to pay Google/Youtube when you watch videos on Youtube?”
- “If Google search is free to use, how does the company make money? How does Google pay the people who work at the company?”
EXPLAIN that many websites are able to keep their content free for users by hosting ads. In 2015, companies around the world spent around $160 billion on digital advertising.4 Some of that money goes to the websites that host the ad. ASK students to list places they’ve seen ads in their own Internet use. Perhaps write them on the board and ask the class if they’ve seen that type of ad after every answer. – For students with limited Internet/technology experience, you can ask about examples of advertising they’ve seen in everyday life (billboards, magazines, etc). It would then be useful to show examples of ads online (perhaps projecting a Google search).
- “What are some examples of ads you’ve seen online?”
- “Do these ads make you want to buy the products you see? Why or why not?”
EXPLAIN that companies like Google and Facebook have technologies that keep track of what we all do online and learn more about who we are. Users don’t have to directly tell the companies information; they can figure it out from the things you do on the site. For instance, if you search “first grader science fair project winner,” Google might guess that you are a first grade student trying to get ideas for your science fair project.
- For students without exposure to the Internet/social media, you can illustrate ad targeting by talking about what their parents buy at the supermarket, and how a company could figure out what kinds of foods you liked.
Searches and Ads 
EXPLAIN that companies use this information to show you ads they think might be relevant, or interesting to you. They think that because you are more likely to be interested in the product advertised, you are more likely to buy it, and give them more money.
Pass out the “Searches and Ads” Handout (p. 50-53). Have students work in pairs to complete the worksheet.
- “How did you figure out information about the person from the searches?”
- Students should have used the elements of each search query, as well as thinking about them together, in order to infer information about each profile.
- “How did you decide which person to pair with each item?”
- Based on what they knew about each person’s profile, they may be able to decide who might be most interested in each item.
- Invite students to look at their own ad settings (what Google has determined about them) here. Teachers can walk through the settings with the group beforehand and then allow students to do so themselves.
- Students could write a one paragraph reflection about what they learned about this alternate persona (which may not reflect their true selves).
- Parent Handout: Say? Cheese! (p. 54)
- Distribute to students and ask them to discuss healthy technology usage habits with their family members.
4. Digital ad spending worldwide 2015 | Statistic. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://brk.mn/147.↩