You spent today looking at buying tickets to a show, only to be a little startled that the website knew where you lived and offered you tickets in your town. “How did it know?” you ask, fear not, let us explain the wizardry behind this and other stalker marketing behaviour on-line and demystify the dark arts of digital targeting.
In the case of a website offering you customised content based on your location, this is typically known as geo-targeting. The website takes your IP address (the unique identifier from your internet service provider) and uses that to identify your location. It’s not quite as sinister as it seems, it doesn’t actually know where you are located. However your ISP has blocks of IP addresses located for different regions and that information is public.
Take a look at the website iplocation.net and see where it thinks you are based on your IP address, try the same from your mobile and you’ll get a different result (providing wifi is off). The databases used on that website are available for marketers to use and offers them the ability to appear more personal, of course that can often backfire and simply appear creepy.
Following your ticket search for your favourite band, you may find the next time you return to the site you are offered tickets in the same genre of music or perhaps at the same venue. This is known as personalization, using information you have previously provided through your previous interactions to tailor your future experience on their website.
Now that you have visited the ticket website and searched for the latest tickets, you may find when your visiting other sites you start to receive adverts for concert tickets. This practice is known as re-marketing and essentially puts a marker against you to say this person has shown an interest in this product. The website you were on searching for tickets is running a campaign to try and get you to come back and complete your purchase.
They do this using cookies which stores your unique identifier to the advertising platform, they have at their disposal several options to decide how aggressively to re-market to you. Too strong and it might just freak you out, too long and you may have already bought your tickets at a competitor.
Can I avoid being stalked?
There are some steps you can take to mitigate the above techniques, in the case of geo-targeting the primary method is to use what is known as a VPN (Virtual Private Network). This is a service that you pay for that allows you to send all your traffic through another network and as such hide where you are really coming from. They have grown in popularity in recent years not just because of privacy concerns from areas such as the Edward Snowden concerns but also to bypass regional limits on streaming services such as Netflix (By connecting to an Canadian IP you could use the Canadian Netflix library) although many of these streamers are starting to crack down on such activities.
When it comes to remarketing there is an opt-out for this which means that whilst you may still see ads they will not be tied to your previous website visits or interests. You may also want to consider using an ad-blocker plugin, although many sites (this one included) will offer you gentle reminders to disable it when visiting certain sites as we all need to make money somehow to survive. Finally of course clearing your cookies is another option, although there is a pain that comes with doing that, you may need to login to websites that you have saved sessions for.
Finally you may wish to set the DNT (Do Not Track) setting in your browser, whilst not all advertisers obey this setting it is designed to be a signal from you to tell websites you do not wish to be tracked. You can find out more about DNT at allaboutdnt.com.