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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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  • Anti-advertising... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by chiark ( 36404 ) on Monday August 30, 2010 @09:43AM (#33414348) Homepage Journal
    I booked a ferry crossing from the UK to France through Brittany Ferries' website, and since then I've often been presented with adverts for Brittany Ferries. It is actually putting me off, and has made me install Adblock plus. I don't mind adverts: I know that they're needed to try and monetise this crazy thing. What I do object to is being stalked by an advert for something that I've already bought the product for! So, well done, that's me now out of the internet advertising audience. I suspect I'm not the only one who has been pushed over the edge by this...
  • Yes. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Securityemo ( 1407943 ) on Monday August 30, 2010 @09:44AM (#33414356) Journal
    The primary use (for the user) of cookies are session cookies. If it wasn't for session cookies, I would just disable them. Maybe you could add a "whitelist this site for cookies y/n?" query right after "do you want to save the password for this site"?
  • EVEN sillier (Score:5, Interesting)

    by SmallFurryCreature ( 593017 ) on Monday August 30, 2010 @09:44AM (#33414362) Journal

    So I look at a product, BUY it, then am constantly targeted with ads urging me to buy it.


  • Re:Yes. (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday August 30, 2010 @09:51AM (#33414416)

    Yeah, so only allow session cookies. In firefox you simply set it to delete all cookies when you close firefox.

    If you want to save passwords, use something like sxsipper.

  • by zarzu ( 1581721 ) on Monday August 30, 2010 @09:52AM (#33414424)

    so whenever you buy something it is right after the first time you looked at it? i don't know how you shop but that's not how it works for me. if i see something i like i might bookmark it and check it out again a week after to see if i was just weird that day or if i really want it. maybe i don't feel like i have the money right now and wait another month until i finally buy it. other times i might see something but think it's not quite right and not even bookmark it. if i now stumble upon it via an ad (not gonna happen since they're all blocked) i might reconsider my earlier decision or at least take another look at the site, because who knows.

    neither a product nor an ad has to convince you in the first look. if it does it's amazing marketing, but people don't buy many things after a single look.

  • Not that scary (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Lord_Dweomer ( 648696 ) on Monday August 30, 2010 @09:55AM (#33414460) Homepage
    Disclaimer: I manage paid search campaigns for a living. This is really not that big a deal. At its basest level this checks whether you visited a given page (usually a conversion event) and shows you an ad based on that. Reality is people like them because they boost conversion rates majorly. And every provider just about uses them, including Google. Don't like? Adblock ftw.
  • LG phones do this (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Brandee07 ( 964634 ) on Monday August 30, 2010 @10:04AM (#33414524)

    I once bought an out-of-contract LG phone, whose screen broke a week after purchase. No, I didn't drop it. Neither AT&T nor LG would repair/replace it, so I went online and searched around and found that this model phone (the Neon) had a notoriously fragile screen, and that no one was able to get repairs for it, so I ended up chucking my useless $80 hunk of plastic in the trash.

    After this twenty minutes of googling, I was plagued by LG Neon ads for weeks. Every third or fourth website I visited had an ad trying to sell me the very phone that broke on me. It made me more and more angry every time I saw it. Without the constant reminder of my wasted money, I may have eventually forgotten about it, but now I will never, ever purchase anything by LG again, and I tell people who are looking for a new phone to get something - anything - else.

  • by captainpanic ( 1173915 ) on Monday August 30, 2010 @10:06AM (#33414548)

    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.

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

    by cain ( 14472 ) on Monday August 30, 2010 @10:10AM (#33414580) Journal

    people like them because they boost conversion rates majorly...

    *People* don't like them - advertisers and marketing scum like them.

    Conversion Rates [wikipedia.org]: "In internet marketing, conversion rate is the ratio of visitors who convert casual content views or website visits into desired actions based on subtle or direct requests from marketers, advertisers, and content creators. ..."

    Blech. I am not a number! I am a free man! Adblock FTW, indeed.

  • Re:EVEN sillier (Score:2, Interesting)

    by morgan_greywolf ( 835522 ) on Monday August 30, 2010 @10:13AM (#33414600) Homepage Journal

    For certain products, that makes absolute sense. Take, for example, network-attached storage devices. If you bought one, you might buy others.

  • solution (Score:3, Interesting)

    by jridley ( 9305 ) on Monday August 30, 2010 @10:16AM (#33414626)

    Firefox with noscript and CsFire, and don't save cookies.

    When even this fails, I contemplate running Portable Firefox and having it reload from a scratch image every time I start it up.

  • by Viperpete ( 1261530 ) on Monday August 30, 2010 @10:17AM (#33414646) Homepage

    The circumstances in which I have been annoyed have been when I made online purchases for my 4 and 10 year old nieces and now constantly see ads for that demographic which as a 36 year old male with no children, I find tiresome. Also, every time one of my home user IT customers needs a new piece of equipment and I do the research for them forever after I see ads for stuff I already have or never want.

    Since I do much more research and pricing of stuff for other people, I always end up seeing ads for demographics that I am not a part of. I pretty much constantly use Adblock and CookieSafe nowadays.

  • by tverbeek ( 457094 ) on Monday August 30, 2010 @10:25AM (#33414760) Homepage

    I find it a bit amusing. A couple months ago I ordered a pizza online from Pizza Shack. For the next few weeks I kept seeing adverts for Pizza Shack everywhere, including my own GoogleAd-using site.* Last month I had a coupon for Papa Fred's so I ordered one from them. The pizza adverts suddenly changed to Papa Fred's. This weekend I looked up the phone number of my local MahJong franchise (which doesn't take online orders). Guess whose banner advert I'm seeing in the window next to this one....

    *This is a little frustrating because I'd rather see the adverts that my visitors are seeing, to give me a sense of their experience on the site... I know, I know... that's missing the point of targeted advertising.

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

    by Lord_Dweomer ( 648696 ) on Monday August 30, 2010 @10:36AM (#33414902) Homepage
    You have the ability to opt out of emails from Amazon quite easily. No third party tools needed. They are not being obnoxious dicks, they are being smart marketers. They only do it because it works, which means people respond and LIKE it. I get those emails all the time, and guess what? They make me aware of products that I am interested in that I might otherwise not have been aware of.

    Don't like it? Don't be an ass and whine--just opt out at the bottom of the email. Really. Not. That. Difficult.

  • Re:Yes. (Score:2, Interesting)

    by maxwell demon ( 590494 ) on Monday August 30, 2010 @10:43AM (#33414992) Journal

    What would be nice is having "tab sessions": Opening a tab and declaring it to be a separate session. When closing that tab, the session ends, and all session cookies set from that tab are deleted. Or maybe do it on a window level (so that several tabs can share the same session). Indeed, for my usage of Firefox, even automatically treating each window as a separate session would work great.

  • by aero2600-5 ( 797736 ) on Monday August 30, 2010 @10:53AM (#33415090)

    Full disclosure: I work for a company that uses these types of ads.

    We use Akamai to serve up these kinds of ads. Believe it or not, most internet traffic goes through Akamai at some point, so when they decide to cookie you, they can find you just about anywhere. From the advertiser's point of view, it makes sense. Only between 2% and 5% of visits result in sales. So, by hitting you with these ads, they're trying to get a second chance at that business.

    But if the question whether is whether I'd rather see an ad for some random diet that doesn't work, or some other scam, or to see an ad for a website that I willingly chose to go to, I'll take the latter any day.

    As for the particular case of that woman and the pair of shoes, I wouldn't advertise for a particular pair of shoes, but then again, being a shoe company, they may have a better insight into the shopping mind of a woman.

    Just be glad that these ads are being served up based on some fact. The fact that you visited that site previously. I think that's better than them trying to build a profile of me based on sites I've visited, and then trying to sell me running gear or viagra.


  • by jackpot777 ( 1159971 ) on Monday August 30, 2010 @10:55AM (#33415120)
    And I don't just think it's products. The first time I noticed it was this spring. My wife and I had a long weekend in Boston, and for weeks afterwards I was receiving banner ads to buy Red Sox tickets (as a Yankees fan, ain't happening if they're not there). We didn't reserve the hotel room online, but we did do a lot of online tourism thanks to Google Maps StreetView. More recently, I was looking for a backup battery for my iPhone. An external portable charger that could top up the 'phone and then rechange itself either by wall socket or 12v in-car. My Google Desktop shows me I looked at TheNerds.net at a few, and I eventually bought the Griffin PowerJolt Reserve at Target. Every ad for TheNerds I've seen since has the PowerJolt on it. OK already, it's good, I just didn't buy it from you!
  • happens on slashdot (Score:3, Interesting)

    by mjwalshe ( 1680392 ) on Monday August 30, 2010 @11:03AM (#33415212)
    a while back I was up for a job with an online womens wear company Asos - I checked out there site to get a feel for what they did and for several weeks I got ads for high heels and leggings on slashdot which was a bit jaring the first time it happened.
  • Re:creepy. but (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Luckyo ( 1726890 ) on Monday August 30, 2010 @11:51AM (#33415798)

    You're afraid of government protecting you from this sort of behaviour more then you are afraid of potential misuse of this kind informational centralization and sharing by private sector companies?
    Most people would call that tinfoil, because that's hip and fashionable, just like most anti-government pro private sector rhetoric. Most sensible people would call that either "clueless" or "stupid". Seriously, which one has happened more often, and who has screwed you over more in the last couple of decades?

    Indeed. Common sense is a bitch when it runs counter to what mass media likes to rave about, isn't it?

  • Re:EVEN sillier (Score:2, Interesting)

    by BrokenHalo ( 565198 ) on Monday August 30, 2010 @11:58AM (#33415888)
    Whether or not it makes sense, there is absolutely no point in attempting to regulate what marketroids do by means of legislation. There are really only two options:

    (1) Kill all marketroids. (My preferred option, but unfortunately not supported by our legal system.)
    (2) Make it impossible for them to track you, i.e. manually clearing cookies/history and using whatever browser extensions or hosts file entries that make you happy. User education is the key here; far too many users are woefully ill-equipped to survive in a modern online environment. There seems to be a totally misguided expectation that because you are using a computer in your own home that you are somehow insulated from the nasties that get perpetrated in the world "out there".
  • Re:creepy. but (Score:3, Interesting)

    by green1 ( 322787 ) on Monday August 30, 2010 @01:28PM (#33417100)

    Actually, I think the fact that I never see commercials on TV, or ads online might cause me to be MORE likely to buy things.

    I have never bought something based on seeing an ad, however when I see a particularly annoying ad I DO make a note not to buy anything from that particular company. So while in the absence of ads I base my purchasing decisions solely on my own requirements and the merits of the product itself, when I have seen advertising I also include the annoying nature of the company's marketing department in the decision.
    So while an ad can never convince me TO buy something, ads frequently convince me NOT to buy a specific thing.

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

    by scot4875 ( 542869 ) on Monday August 30, 2010 @02:00PM (#33417538) Homepage

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

    Ahh, so the truth finally comes out; anybody who has gotten fed up with the unethical (yes, unethical) nature of modern advertising is a whacko.

    There couldn't possibly be *any* legitimate gripes against the advertising industry, right? Exploiting human psychology to sell shit is absolutely, without question, beyond reproach.


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

    by mldi ( 1598123 ) on Monday August 30, 2010 @04:38PM (#33419386)
    Head-On! Apply directly to forehead! Head-On! Head-On! Head-On! Apply to forehead! Head-On!

    Sorry. That's the first ad that came to mind that was so annoying I actually cringe when I see it in real life. It upholds your point.

    To add to the discussion, if I make a purchase of anything over $15-$20, I probably do at least a little bit of research on it first. If that's an audio CD, it's probably just a few general reviews. The more expensive the item the more research (TV hunting literally took 6 weeks) unless time is of the essence (car broke down and you need a new one NOW). I most definitely rarely buy something worth more than $15-$20 on a whim. And that's only based on TV ads.

    Internet ads are a breed that are far worse by nature, but at least they're blockable for the most part. The only times I leave them on is when I feel the site is worthy of advertising revenue and when the ads aren't super annoying or intrusive. Example: /.

Machines that have broken down will work perfectly when the repairman arrives.