Somebody Is Watching Me

Think of yourself as a snail. Whenever you surf the Internet you leave behind a small trail of slime for others to see. And exploit.

I know there are ways to cover my tracks online, to disable “cookies,” to use proxy servers and various other methods to give a certain amount of anonymity. That knowledge doesn’t translate into action though. I usually don’t care if people follow my online activities, though if I think about it, I should object just on principle.

This past week though I have been annoyed at the way I have been tracked. Or more accurately, at the marketing efforts that have come out of the various websites I have visited.

I use a free web-based email service. The cost of such services is that advertisements are regularly displayed on the screen to entice me to shop. Those ads are targeted, based on my browsing history. And they are totally useless.

My 12-year-old minivan has served the family well, but it is time to consider a replacement. Better to think of such things now before facing a whopping repair bill and having to purchase a vehicle in haste.

To me a car is something you use to get from point A to point B. I don’t care what I drive. My wife and daughter are pickier. About six months ago they began a campaign advocating for a particular make and model of car, based, as far as I could tell, on appearance. Since it doesn’t matter to me I agreed, stipulating that we needed to purchase a used model, that a new vehicle was beyond our means. (Even the used ones of their preference that I looked at online were more than I had really wanted to spend, but the vehicle had a good reputation.)

Last week they suddenly changed their minds. I got a text saying they were bringing a vehicle home for a test drive. They gave me the details, and I went online and found an identical vehicle, with half the mileage, a thousand dollars cheaper at another dealer. So, given that they liked the car they were test driving, I drove to the other dealer and bought the one I had found online. No point in wasting time on these things, get it done quickly.

However, whatever program is used to place ads in my email hasn’t caught up. A couple of times a day I’m getting advertisements for the ‎type of vehicle we were originally looking at. Sometimes the ad is even from the dealer where I made the purchase. But I’m no longer in the market for a car, so the ad is a waste.

In the same way, I’m still getting ads from Amazon for a case for the BlackBerry Q10. I do not own that model, but did once do a price check on the case. Three months later, I’m ‎still getting the ad at least once a week. I’m not going to buy it.

If I’m going to check out a product online I usually start with Amazon. I guess that is why I get so many ads from that store. The ads don’t really do any good though. I’m fairly decisive, and if I didn’t buy it when I first looked, I’m unlikely to buy it later. Or I already bought it elsewhere at a better price. That happened last week – I used Amazon to price check, but found the item across the street at the same price. No wait time or shipping charges.

It seems like every time I go to a commercial website the ads show up immediately afterwards. So somebody is tracking my browsing habits, but it isn’t doing them any good. I wonder how I let them know? ‎If I have to have ads in my email, it would be nice if they were for products I am considering buying.

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