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.
- What is contextual advertising, and how does it affect my privacy? – Contextual advertising uses on-site clues and additional information to place ads that are likely to be useful to site visitors, or to you.
- Can we no longer view websites without getting pop-ups? – Free information on the web isn’t free; there are costs to provide it. Pop-ups: advertising, offers, and social media, are all part of the “cost” of free.
- Who’s responsible for monitoring misleading advertising? – If an ad claims that they will fix your computer for free, be skeptical. You know they are trying to make money, and besides you may be able to handle the problem yourself, for free.
- Is Gmail’s targeted advertising a bad thing? – Of course Gmail can read your email. How else would they be able to filter it for spam? But “who” or “what” is reading it, and does it really matter?