It is a common occurrence: You search for the latest smartphones on a major shopping site, and after a while, you see those same items (and similar items) as popup ads on other websites you visit. So how exactly are those ads following you around all over the web?
Why Do We See the Same Ads Everywhere On the Internet?
Websites Track Your Browsing Activities
It is no secret anymore that almost all websites can track your online activities, but when websites start knowing too much about you, it seems a little creepy. How much of you is exactly being tracked? Are websites putting spyware into your system to track your activities?
Do not be puzzled if you see the same ads everywhere on the Internet. It isn’t malicious, and there is no other intent behind this other than marketing. When you see the same products as popup ads that you just looked at moments ago, it is simply because of an advertising technique called remarketing.
What Is It?
Remarketing is a common advertising service that is now used by several e-commerce websites. This is how it works:
- You visit a website—it could be any site, from an online store to the website of your favorite autobody repair shop.
- Even though the website does not show ads, as such, it does include content that is provided by some kind of advertising service.
- This advertising service places a cookie in your browser that says, ‘This browser/user was looking at this product/service at this time.’
- You later move over to other websites that are supported by advertisements. Even if a website is supported in part by advertisements, you will see ads displayed.
- If this website uses the same advertising service as the one you had visited moments ago, the service gets he cookie back from your browser and gets to know what products or services you were interested in.
- You see ads of the same items you were looking at some time back.
There could be several different variations on this above technique that advertising services use to track your browsing activities. Even when you visit the website of your web host or a real estate site, you will see ads about new properties coming up at your location or domain names that you could be interested in. It is creepy and annoying, but sadly, most ad-based sites now use remarketing.
How Safe Is It?
Seeing the same ads everywhere on the Internet does make a user feel uncomfortable because it seems like you are being followed. In reality, if you were followed after you left a store and pestered to make a purchase, it would be out and out creepy. It feels the same on the Internet.
We must realize that tracking does not mean being tracked as an individual. Your browser does not know where you go, what you do, or the people you meet. It only knows about your online activities. It isn’t malware or spyware, and there isn’t any criminal intention behind it. In most cases, the information isn’t stored on any browser or any website for too long. Simply clearing the cookies will make your browser forget everything.
Violating Your Online Privacy?
Most people call this a violation of privacy and unethical use of personal data. However, since there is no criminal intent, there isn’t much people can do to stop seeing ads. There are two solutions for those who do not want to be tracked at all: 1) Use an ad-blocker, and 2) Use a VPN.
Using an ad-blocker or making your security settings stronger will block several other sites along with popups. This could be an inconvenience if many of the sites and features you regularly use are blocked. Adblock and ABP are both examples of ad-blocking extension you can install on Chrome and FireFox.
Using a VPN is the most effective way to safely browse the Internet, because it keeps you anonymous and prevents tracking. This is an expensive service, and could be beyond the budget of many Internet users. Still, the benefits you get out of connecting to a virtual private network whenever you go online far outweigh the cost. Another way to stay safe is by clearing your browser cookies frequently, preferably after every browsing session.
Why Are Ads Following You Around Online – Final Thoughts
Most sites rely on advertisements for revenue, and remarketing is not going away anytime soon. This leaves users who do not want to be tracked with the option of using a VPN to access the Internet. Going anonymous on the web is the best way to prevent tracking and seeing annoying ads everywhere.