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Retargeting Ads Stalk You For Weeks After You Shop 344

eldavojohn writes "The New York Times is reporting on a new kind of web ad that takes products you were looking at purchasing on one site and continually advertising them in front of you at subsequent sites. After looking at shoes at Zappos, a mother in Montreal noticed the shoes followed her: 'For days or weeks, every site I went to seemed to be showing me ads for those shoes. It is a pretty clever marketing tool. But it's a little creepy, especially if you don't know what's going on.' The spreading ploy is called 'retargeting ads' and really are just a good demonstration of how an old technology (all they use are leftover browser cookies) are truly invasive and privacy violating. Opponents are clamoring for government regulation to protect the consumer and one writer mentioned a consumer 'do not track' list — adding that retailers really show little fear of turning off customers with their invasion."
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Retargeting Ads Stalk You For Weeks After You Shop

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  • by mutube ( 981006 ) on Monday August 30, 2010 @09:39AM (#33414308) Homepage

    So... You look at something, decide you *don't* want to buy it... and then they continue to advertise it to you in case what? You change your mind?



  • creepy. but (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Geoffrey.landis ( 926948 ) on Monday August 30, 2010 @09:40AM (#33414310) Homepage

    I agree it's creepy, but Opponents are clamoring for government regulation to protect the consumer bothers me a bit. Really, I'm not at all sure that the government should be regulating in the internet at this picky level of detail.

  • Adblock (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday August 30, 2010 @09:41AM (#33414322)

    If you just use adblock this isn't a problem ...

  • Re:creepy. but (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday August 30, 2010 @09:47AM (#33414384)

    I'm not at all sure that the government should be regulating in the internet at this picky level of detail.

    Consumers have no technical way to protect themselves. Block cookies and there are a thousand other ways to track them (web bugs, LSO cookies, etc. etc.). Block those and the vendors will find another solution.

    The only solution is legal: Give consumers legal authority to stop vendors from tracking them, and penalties if that's violated.

    We've all been trained to memorize the meme that government regulation is bad. Fine if you want to believe it, and sometimes the meme is true, but sometimes, bad or not, the regulation is worse than the alternative.

  • by wagadog ( 545179 ) on Monday August 30, 2010 @09:50AM (#33414410) Journal

    and, yet, they've gotten your attention sufficiently to get you to repeat their name! No such thing as bad publicity!

    And...dare I say it to a chiark? You are like putty in their hands. ssh into their site next time. :)

  • Re:Silly (Score:5, Insightful)

    by BobMcD ( 601576 ) on Monday August 30, 2010 @09:52AM (#33414434)

    If I just bought something, why would they think I'm going to buy it again? If it was a perishable product or one that is periodically used up, that's understandable, but good shoes generally last at least a year or so.

    I prefer it, actually, to the approach used by television. There must not be a lot of brand loyalty in feminine hygiene products, but I'm fairly certain that they're wasting their ad dollars trying to woo me.

    Ads for things I have bought is one step closer to ads for things I might actually buy, and is a step away from ads that I'd rather not even think about.

    Therefore - good thing.

    Besides, if you've already been to the site and made your decision, what's the harm, exactly?

  • Re:creepy. but (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Errol backfiring ( 1280012 ) on Monday August 30, 2010 @09:59AM (#33414494) Journal

    I'm not at all sure that the government should be regulating in the internet at this picky level of detail.

    I think people should not be haunted with ads by any technique. So this is not nitpicking, it is just regulation of how much privacy invading is allowed. And in my opinion this kind of automated man-hunt should be forbidden.

  • Re: Not that scary (Score:3, Insightful)

    by YrWrstNtmr ( 564987 ) on Monday August 30, 2010 @10:11AM (#33414588)
    Reality is people like them because they boost conversion rates majorly.

    'people' like them? No...advertisers and marketers like them. "People" don't care about boosted conversion rates.
  • by MaWeiTao ( 908546 ) on Monday August 30, 2010 @10:12AM (#33414594)

    What I find exceedingly obnoxious is when I do purchase something and for weeks afterwards I'll get promotions for similar things, if not the same exact altogether.

    I'm curious to know how effective this sort of thing actually is. All those people in the marketing department and consultants will desperately insist it works. But given my own experiences and observations it just creates information overload and the vast majority of people end up ignoring most of what they say. Unfortunately, the very people who do marketing are the ones also supplying the statistics on whether it has been effective or not. They're not going to furnish information that renders them inessential. So they only disclose what seems to work and make some rather absurd suppositions.

    There's no such thing as too much advertising to these guys. Expect things to get even more invasive.

  • by sammy baby ( 14909 ) on Monday August 30, 2010 @10:16AM (#33414632) Journal

    Oh man, the "Tiny wireless camera!!!" ads? I remember them from the late 90s. I think that they were just flat out ubiquitous, as opposed to following specific people around.

    The worst part of those ads was the pervyness. The ads would blare "for security," but they all ran with pictures of half-dressed women.

  • by KnownIssues ( 1612961 ) on Monday August 30, 2010 @10:19AM (#33414674)

    I'm sure yours is a very popular opinion within this community, but I think it is unrealistic and impractical. It's quite reasonable for an average person to fail to understand the magic that can happen in the Internet. And the Internet certainly doesn't behave in an easily understandable, intuitive manner. We are the literate elite of the modern age and the average person is part of the illiterate, unwashed masses. The average person is no more stupid or incapable of intelligent thought than those unfortunate enough to be in the lower class in the middle ages.

    Why berate them for failing to understand the subtleties of cookies and caches simply because you happen to have an inhuman interest in the technical depths of your computer? I consider myself to be pretty computer literate and I would be pretty freaked (and disturbed) to find an ad following me around.

    I've tried the experiment of flushing cookies and cache and I don't know about you, but I found it to make the browsing experience completely unusable. I went right back to allowing all cookies. There's a reason cookies were developed as a feature of browsing and it's because they offer a useful service. If you disable its use for evil, you also disable its use for good.

  • by maxwell demon ( 590494 ) on Monday August 30, 2010 @10:19AM (#33414676) Journal

    Or use an ad blocker. Or do both.

  • Re: Not that scary (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday August 30, 2010 @10:20AM (#33414690)

    As it turns out, boosted conversion rates mean that yes, people do "like" them, because they click on them.

    It's frustrating to see people get angered by advertising techniques when the only reason for them (animated ads, retargeted ads, et cetera) is that *they work*. We wouldn't use them if they didn't. The advertisers aren't to blame -- it's the consumer behavior that drives that ad format.

  • Stop looking (Score:3, Insightful)

    by smittyman ( 466522 ) on Monday August 30, 2010 @10:26AM (#33414764)

    Since Firefox and Adblock (/ghostery) has been around i wonder why people still spent all the energy on adds. As long as you look, click, discuss, hate, love them they have the desired effect and the money flows. Just /ignore / block as Spam is here to stay.

    If a site is too intrusive there are most likely 10-100 alternatives to visit. Rather spend my time on that.

    Enjoy this not so intrusive /. website where we can even turn the spam off (hear hear! :)

  • Re: Not that scary (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Lord_Dweomer ( 648696 ) on Monday August 30, 2010 @10:33AM (#33414860) Homepage
    I was actually referring to the people that click them and then buy more stuff--but its cute how you speak for everybody in the world, I'm sure they appreciate that.

    Look, we wouldn't be using them if they weren't effective, and they wouldn't be effective if everybody hated them with as much baseless passion as you do. So guess who's wrong?

  • Re: Not that scary (Score:4, Insightful)

    by TheGratefulNet ( 143330 ) on Monday August 30, 2010 @10:34AM (#33414878)

    I hate the very concept of this phrase (never heard 'CR' used before and I feel that much more dirty for knowing what it means, now).

    there really are 2 kinds of people in the world. those that add value to the world via their creativity and talents; and then all the rest, comprised mainly of salesman, marketeers and politicians.

    yes, there is an inherent disconnect between those 2 groups.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday August 30, 2010 @10:35AM (#33414882)

    Advertising isn't done by a bunch of people who guess at what works -- we have hard numbers that show that in the short term, this type of advertisement is incredibly effective. We don't make the numbers up, either (in fact, since it's our customers that bring the data on how many people click through the ads/buy the product/et cetera, we wouldn't even have the opportunity to do so).

    Now, I wouldn't be at all surprised if there are long-term consequences that we don't really understand, but... that's not what sells ads. If we can figure out a way to quantify brand effects like that, we can model ads around it. But as it is, our customers want to see rapid results, and this is an easy way to deliver them.

    It's important to realize that these types of advertisement are the free market at work. An open environment tends toward the most cost-effective, short-term-gain structure, and these ads are an example of that. No amount of moralizing will change that. If you want change, you need to regulate the market.

  • Re: Not that scary (Score:5, Insightful)

    by TheGratefulNet ( 143330 ) on Monday August 30, 2010 @10:37AM (#33414910)

    Not all marketers are deceptive, unethical people, just like you can't generalize any profession.

    in my 30 years in the software field, I never once met a sales/marketing guy you could trust. "shake hands and you have to count your fingers" is the usual sentiment felt after dealing with such people.

    if you could 'do' you would have. because you can't, you 'sell'. we know that; and yes, we do judge you for it; and not in a good way, either.

  • by ScrewMaster ( 602015 ) on Monday August 30, 2010 @10:45AM (#33415016)

    Interesting to see how intrusive advertisements actually accomplish the exact opposite: a certain hatred against the company behind it...

    I have similar experiences - some types of advertisement are just too annoying, and I will make an effort never to buy anything from that company ever again. (And I have a longer memory than the internet itself).

    It all makes me wonder what kind of people can be digitally bullied into buying something online.

    The problem is one of metrics. Generally it's not the actual advertiser that has set up a system to generate and serve ads, they just pay another company for the service. So there's a disconnect between the people receiving (and being irritated by) the advertisements, and the company actually providing the goods and services. Ideally, the vendor would check up on what their flunkies are doing: maybe then they'd say, "Hey, enough of that, you're pissing off potential customers!" But odds are the ad company just returns some simple stats on number of ads served and where, and that vendor company just says, 'Good job." Personally, I think they've been sold a bill of goods: this might work in the short term but eventually people will either a. block the things or b. simply tune them out. That's what I do anyways, on both counts.

    People who buy this kind of advertising need to be more aware of the effect it is having on customers (and potential customers.) The "no such thing as bad publicity" mantra may be true in some circles, but when it comes to online advertising it's a big negative, since most people are predisposed to dislike such ads anyway. You have to strike a balance when it comes to advertising. Television, by and large, has gone overboard: they're so damn commercial-laden now that I'd rather torrent commercial-free episodes of my favorite shows even though I'm paying AT&T for the privilege (yeah, I can commercial-skip with the DVR, but I like to just hit "play" and forget about it, plus which their WinCE-based DVR software is decidedly flaky.) I also find that it's a lot easier to become immersed in the storyline if I'm not dealing with constant interruptions.

    A lot of cable channels are acting like this is still old-time broadcast television, where the user had no ability to record or skip anything, and at best could just turn down the volume on a commercial. Those days are gone: I pay to watch these shows, and I really couldn't care less about someone's ad revenue especially when it ruins the experience for me. When it comes to the Web, I'll tolerate ads (even though I will never, as a matter of principle, buy anything from one of them) until they start to really get on my nerves. Then my eyeballs will disappear off your radar just like that.

    Google appears to understand this balance and has been phenomenally successful because of it: their ads are simple and unobtrusive, and their service is worth the trade-off. Push it too far, however, and people will seek out ways to avoid viewing them: the tools are there. This user-tracking business sounds like one of those times, if the reaction of people here on Slashdot is any indication.

  • New != New (Score:3, Insightful)

    by RobTerrell ( 139316 ) on Monday August 30, 2010 @10:47AM (#33415038) Homepage

    I don't want to sound like an argle-fargling old timer with an onion on my belt, but for christ's sake, since when is "new to a montreal mother" new for /. ? Ad retargetting has been around for YEARS.

    Small advertisers in particular love it, because it makes them look huge: "Hey, wow, these guys advertise on!" Yep, they do! Only for you at this particular moment in time, but they do.

  • by tverbeek ( 457094 ) on Monday August 30, 2010 @10:50AM (#33415068) Homepage

    The publicity has to be pretty damn bad (Bhopal-/Valdez-/Deepwater-level bad) for the negative associations to trump the value of simple name recognition. After reading the story above I am now aware of exactly one company that provides ferry service between northwest France and the south of England. If I ever find myself in Portsmouth with a desire to get to Caen, that name will come back to me, probably without me remembering why I know it.

  • Works well for me. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by netsavior ( 627338 ) on Monday August 30, 2010 @10:53AM (#33415098)
    I buy computers on very often...they have corporate small form factor desktops they are very stable and very cheap: ~ $150 for a P4 3.0 and come with a licensed copy of XP so it really is right for gifting PCs to kids and tech-illiterates in my life... I look at these PCs probably 4x a month to see if one is on deep clearance, but now I don't have to... since half the sites I go to, they conveniently show me the current price of the PCs I care about in the form of a personalized overstock banner.

    I am a consumer whore, but man I really appreciate this kind of advertising: showing me relevant marketing information that I find useful, instead of randomized results based on content
  • Re: Not that scary (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ScrewMaster ( 602015 ) on Monday August 30, 2010 @10:57AM (#33415134)

    salesman, marketeers and politicians.

    Oddly similar personality types, when you get right down to it. The term "sociopath" is most commonly applied.

  • Re:creepy. but (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Mr2cents ( 323101 ) on Monday August 30, 2010 @11:14AM (#33415322)

    Yes. This will work because the internet is completely situated in one country. Also, legislation (and enforcement of -) doesn't cost a thing.

  • Re: Not that scary (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Lord_Dweomer ( 648696 ) on Monday August 30, 2010 @11:47AM (#33415732) Homepage

    "some people click on them. usually feeble old grannies, young kids who don't know (yet) any better and imbeciles who will never learn and the odd republican here and there."

    What about all your fellow slashdotters? You realize this site survives because of ads right? SOMEBODY must be clicking on those ads about servers, geek toys, etc.

    And what about ads on sites like Ars Technica, or any industry website? Are those people all feeble old grannies and young kids who don't know any better? Also, what does someone's political affiliation have to do with anything?

    Man, when /. posts a story on advertising all the whackos come out of the woodwork.

  • Re: Not that scary (Score:2, Insightful)

    by PaulMeigh ( 1277544 ) on Monday August 30, 2010 @12:05PM (#33415984)

    if you could 'do' you would have. because you can't, you 'sell'. we know that; and yes, we do judge you for it; and not in a good way, either.

    'Selling' pays your salary, allowing you to 'do'. It's not easy, and many engineers cannot 'do' it.

  • Re:creepy. but (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Sporkinum ( 655143 ) on Monday August 30, 2010 @12:14PM (#33416096)

    I know I am a bad citizen, but since I adblock, DVR tv and skip commercials, I spend way less money. If you don't see they shiny, you aren't tempted to buy it.
    I blame the recession on Tivos and adblockers. ;)

  • Re: Not that scary (Score:3, Insightful)

    by sjames ( 1099 ) on Monday August 30, 2010 @12:21PM (#33416178) Homepage Journal

    It doesn't prove that they LIKE it, just that it works. There is a difference.

  • Re:Alternatives? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by maxwell demon ( 590494 ) on Monday August 30, 2010 @12:39PM (#33416406) Journal

    Well, I don't have problems with ads which are selected based on the content of the page I'm looking at (assuming it's not annoying in any other way; unfortunately so many ads are that I've given up manual ad blocking and use AdBlock Plus to automatically block all ads). Note that the content of the page is most likely interesting for me (otherwise I probably wouldn't look at it). If advertisers would stop trying to track me and would stop making ads annoying (and sites would stop putting ads in the middle of articles), I'd happily stop using AdBlock Plus.

  • Re:creepy. but (Score:3, Insightful)

    by scot4875 ( 542869 ) on Monday August 30, 2010 @01:23PM (#33417038) Homepage

    This isn't some sort of anti-piracy legislation, where or the Pirate Bay can just move their servers if needed.

    These are real companies, selling real stuff, with real distributors and the vast majority will have a physical presence in the US. If they want to continue to do business in the US, they would need to follow the rules, just like everyone else.

    Your point about costs still stands, but overall I see nothing wrong with putting tools in the hands of the public to force these invasive assholes to back off.


  • Re:creepy. but (Score:3, Insightful)

    by guanxi ( 216397 ) on Monday August 30, 2010 @05:54PM (#33420438)

    Really? It's just a meme? Have you ever looked at the process by which a bill becomes law? Have you ever seen a regulatory agency, and how that law becomes policy? Have you ever read the news about cops enforcing the law, people getting tangled up in regulations? Do you even vote? The only guarantee with a regulation is that this incredibly messy process is what's going to pick the winners and losers.

    Can you name a mechanism or institution that is not "messy"? Have you seen the way corporations work? The "free market"? In theory, they all work efficiently, as do government regulations. In theory, there's no difference between theory and practice.

    But in reality, everything is messy; it's the nature of human institutions. If our criteria is neatness, we might as well quit (or welcome our robotic overlords). Unfortunately, there's nothing inherently good or bad about the government or any of the alternatives. Problems seem simpler if we make absolute statements like, 'government -- bad', but they aren't realistic. In the end, we have to make messy decisions in a messy world.

Ya'll hear about the geometer who went to the beach to catch some rays and became a tangent ?