Are you being followed online

Let’s paint a picture; a 40-year-old Tom Cruise walks through a shopping mall. Pocket sized cameras lace the walls where they intermittently scan his face. Adverts nearby spark to life with messages targeted specifically at the man. This is a scene from the 2002 film minority report and the internet we live in today is not much different.

“Targeting ads so they show to the right customers is an essential part of a successful advertising campaign. You might have designed the perfect ad to attract your customers to your business, but unless you show it to the right people at the right time, your ad alone won’t help you reach your goal.”

-Google Support

Targeted advertising is a form of advertising that focuses on a range of traits from the consumer, including; age ranges, location, and shopping habits. When it comes to online targeted advertising the well known approach is the use of Cookies. Cookies allow advertisers to cross reference information such as IP addresses and referrers when used on the same device. That being the case, however, a new form of targeted advertising has manifested in the past year is the use of tracking via users logging into accounts.


The use of browser cookies has been common practice with the online tracking industry since it’s creation and will be what many refer to when discussing the subject.The main reason why cookies were created is because at its base level HTTP is stateless, this means that each request a browser makes is completely separate to the last. Cookies allow for information to be stored or accumulated.

How targeted advertising works | Washington Post

DoubleClick is a great example of this. DoubleClick is a company owned by Google that functions as an advertising network for advertisers. The major difference between Adsense and DoubleClick is that DoubleClick functions as a premium service and has significantly higher bars of entry to its sister platform Adsense.

When a user visits a website with DoubleClick adverts a cookie will be left on their device. This cookie will stay on the users device for a time frame set by the advertising network. For advertising cookies this will normally last for a set amount of time in the future. Each time you visit a website with an advert belonging to the same network it will check your machine for the cookie if you have one it will read t otherwise it will create one.

As for DoubleClick cookies the contents will look something similar to the following:

time: 06/Aug/2008 12:01:32
ad_placement_id: 105
ad_id: 1003
userid: 0000000000000001
referral_url: ""

With this data DoubleClick can cross reference the amount of times it has seen the specific user-id and on which websites it has viewed. Information such as IP addresses also allows the advertising network to derive the device’s location.

‘Sign In’ Tracking

Instead of using cookies to track users many organisations, including Google and Facebook, have adopted a method commonly referred to as ‘Sign In’ tracking. This tracking techniques revolves around reaching the same users across multiple devices by targeting their user account.

“Let’s say you’re a retailer and want to build a customised Halloween campaign. With cross-device re-marketing, you can reach your customers with an “It’s almost Halloween” ad on their phone during the morning commute. Later in the day, you can follow up with a limited time offer on decorations and recipes when they’re browsing a tablet at home.”

-Google Inside Adwords Blog

Compiling user data, such as: age ranges and genders with the habit data acquired with services such as DoubleClick allows for a stronger profile to be created where targeted ads can be used to their true potential. 

Common legislation in the EU and UK will normally allow users to opt out of targeted advertising, such as the data protection act in the UK and GDPR soon coming across all EU member states. Users that wish to opt out of Google’s targeted advertising can visit the advertising section of their account. To review your Facebook advertising settings you can visit your account settings.


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