Let me put your mind at ease: this isn’t spyware, and it’s not malicious.
It may be a little creepy, but there’s no evil intent other than marketing.
Become a Patron of Ask Leo! and go ad-free!
What you are seeing is an advertising technique called “remarketing.”
All it means is that you have visited a site using an advertising service that offers this now very common service.
It works like this:
There are several variations on the technique, and I’m sure that the implementation is significantly more complex than I’ve outlined.
As a concrete example, I often visit the website of the hosting company that I use, LiquidWeb.com – it’s just part of my daily activity as I manage the servers that host my web sites. For the longest time, I started seeing ads for LiquidWeb as I moved on to other sites on the internet.
Advertising and tracking
It’s creepy because it feels like someone is following you. It’s like you visited a jewelry store, and as soon as you left someone started following you, pestering you to purchase from that store. “I know you’re interested, because you came into the store and looked at this ring. Here it is again. Are you sure you don’t want to buy it?”
Like I said, creepy.
It’s important to realize that this type of tracking isn’t technically “tracking” you as an individual; it’s just a side effect of the places your computer has visited. Honestly, I’d be shocked if the information was kept very long. There’s a very good chance that simply clearing cookies will cause the remarketing system to forget what your computer has seen, and begin the whole process over again.
It really is only about showing you ads for things you’ve somehow shown an interest in. It’s certainly not spyware, and it’s not some kind of malicious software installed on your machine. It’s simply advertisers leveraging how the internet and web browsers work.
There’s nothing you can really do about it without using an ad-blocking solution. Being an advertising-supported site myself, I have mixed feelings about that.
I know it makes some people uncomfortable, and understandably so. But ultimately, there’s really nothing nefarious or underhanded going on here.