Why does my computer stalk me with pictures of shoes I shouldn't buy?

Why does my computer stalk me with pictures of shoes I shouldn't buy?

Summary: For the past two days the shoes I thought I'd gotten out of my system have been stalking me relentlessly across the Internet.

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TOPICS: Hardware, Browser
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Recently, in an ill-considered fit of self-torture, I spent the evening on Zappos.com drooling over mules, clogs, and sandals that aren't in my budget. Some of them are downright gorgeous. Some are so ugly they're cute. Most of them would probably not look all that great on me (which perversely makes me want them all the more, go figure).

In my ideal shoe fantasy world, they would all complete me perfectly, and they'd all be really comfortable.

I love stylin' shoes, but I really do have more than enough of them. More, in fact, than many would consider normal. And this is after getting rid of half of them in a recent move. I admit it. I have a problem being reasonable where shoes are concerned, so I try to tread carefully when I enter the shoeniverse.

The clickfest started because I was attempting to replace the worn-out pair of athletic shoes I depend on for my exercise program. I was able to order the sneakers I needed, but somehow I ended up among the clogs, and got sucked in for over an hour.

In order to quell the shoe-jones, I added a bunch of stuff to my wish list, which made me feel a whole lot better, and got the shoe lust out of my system. Or so I thought.

Now, my browser has gotten wind of my most-of-the-time well-managed desire, and is hitting me hard with pictures of the kinds of shoes I find hardest to resist.

I go onto a lyrics site to look up an old Merle Hagard song that used to make me laugh when the Grateful Dead covered it, and I am mesmerized by a carousel of scary Mary Jane clogs gracefully circling like sharks.

For the past two days the shoes I thought I'd gotten out of my system have been stalking me relentlessly across the Internet. Oh what a tangled Web we weave.

What's up with this?

Obviously, targeted advertising isn't a new phenomenon. Zappos isn't alone. This is a common occurrence. I've noticed it a lot lately from a host of vendors, including Scott e-Vest, Too Faced Cosmetics, the folks at ZendStudio, and more. It seems to have gotten more intense as the economy stormclouds gather once again, and gas prices skyrocket.

On one hand, people might like being reminded of stuff they're thinking about buying. On the other hand, people who can't really afford it might wind up breaking hard in a moment of weakness and succumbing to a temptation they really don't need.

I'm only half-kidding here. I'm a grownup, and I can take responsibility for managing myself. I have to.

But I do have concerns about this trend, because shopping addiction is a real torment for many people.

About 10-15% of people may have a genetic predisposition to an addictive behavior. Many stumble in weak moments, and times are rough, so it can be hard to recover. It's a tough call, because obviously the economy needs to be stimulated, ads are vital to the Internet economy, and those of us who make some of our living online certainly enjoy being paid for our work.

Still, I resent having to deal with those shoes. I mean, I can stay away from shoe sites moving forward, but I can't stay off the Web entirely. I rely on the Internet for so much. Yes, there is sometimes an opt out option so I won't see the products I crave. But the wording on the opt out piece does not guarantee I won't see other ads from the site, which are almost as bad.

I really feel for the person with alcoholism who clicks on a beer ad in a moment of curiosity and winds up constantly being prodded towards the high life. Or for the person trying to change his eating habits being haunted by ads for snack foods he's trying to stop obsessing about.

I think I'm going to suck it up and just nuke my browser's cookies. Maybe next time I go on an information reconnaissance mission because I need to make a carefully-considered purchase in a product category I have a hard time resisting, I'll sandbox my searching so it won't seize me later.

What brands have you noticed stalking you around the Internet? How do you feel about this business practice? If you're an advertiser doing this, how's it working out for you? Please do tell in the TalkBacks below.

Topics: Hardware, Browser

About

Denise Amrich is a Registered Nurse, the health care advisor for the U.S. Strategic Perspective Institute, and a mentor for the Virtual Campus at Florida's Brevard Community College.


Nothing in this article is meant to be a substitute for medical advice, and shouldn't be considered as such. If you are in need of medical help, please see your doctor.

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.

Talkback

28 comments
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  • Solution??

    Nice editorial. Are you planning on answering the question or providing a solution? You infer that there is no way to avoid this type of targeted advertising. Wrong. You can clear all your cookies. Different browsers do this differently...in IE9 go to Tools, then Internet Options. Under the section "Browsing history, click on "Delete...". On the next window, make sure "Cookies" are selected. Finally, click Delete.
    mdw24368-24327418100440511300623235416863
    • Cookies are only a part of the bubble.

      It will also teak by IP and other tale tale signs.
      Bruizer
    • There's another solution

      Block ads. I use NoScript and Adblock+ for most of the internet. Going from that setup to something like my parents computer is completely jarring, because I'm honestly not used to seeing half of it.

      And yes, I realize if we all do this, we'll break the internet.
      Aerowind
      • No, we won't break the Internet.

        We'll just pay only for the things we want. I don't view any ads when I read the NY Times online, but I'm more than happy to pay for access to the site.
        zdnet-vendors
      • The internet is already broken

        The internet is already broken, it just doesn't know it yet.

        Ads don't generate revenue. Clicks don't generate revenue. **Purchases generate revenue!** I am not buying anything I see in these online ads, targeted or otherwise. The advertisers and wasting their money paying ad companies to bombard me with ads anyway. So why shouldn't I block them? The whole system will collapse eventually.

        There are two rationales here:

        1) Since I am not going to spend any of my money on anything I see in an online ad, there is no point in having the ads anyway, so why shouldn't I block them?

        2) Since enough people do view the ads and occasionally purchase enough to keep the whole thing moving, then it doesn't matter if I block the ads in my browser.

        Either way, I am not putting up with any ads I don't have to. It is my computer and I get to say what is on my screen.
        mlashinsky
  • Modify the computer Host file...

    ...And you won't see any ads at all. I see TigerDirect products following me around as well.

    http://winhelp2002.mvps.org/hosts.htm
    Too-Tired Techie
  • proxy shopping?

    I agree with you that this advertising approach feels like stalking, but I also agree with one of the other posters that just clearing your cookies probably isn't sufficient. I seems to me like the only real solution would be shopping through a proxy website...basically redirecting your shopping through some intermediate website to retain your privacy. Does anyone know if there's such a thing?

    gary
    gdstark13
    • Protect yourself

      I use Do Not Track Plus from Abine.com, it stops social networks, adware, and companies from tracking your moves. I also us Hotspot Shield VPN from Anchorfree.com to hide your IP from everyone. I also use HTTPS Everywhere from the Electronic Frontier Foundation to always hook to a secure web page if available. Try them, they will make your life easier and give you great protection. Am also testing other stuff, but this stuff works!!!!!!
      Denny Fry
  • Google is great for this stuff

    Google will do this to you!

    I use an application called IECookiesView v1.74

    Allows to delete cookie without deleting them all!
    InsiteFX
  • I concur about using ad-blocking software...

    I also use NoScript and AdBlock +. And, no, I am not at all apologetic about using such software. I hate television commercials, I pass magazine ads as though they aren't there, and I block website ads. If I want to buy something, I will be the one to search it out and get more information about it. Noxious, annoying, predatory advertisements will drive me away from a company's products and services, rather than make me want to be a customer.

    My basic philosophy is this: If a company wants my business, they will stay out of my face, regardless of whether I'm on the internet, reading a magazine, or watching TV. It appears that most companies don't want [i]my[/i] business, to judge from the amount of advertising out there today.
    Den2010
    • I don't use ad-blocking

      But I just don't notice the ads anymore unless they are actually growing outside their assigned box and hide my article which should be forbidden. When ads do that I take note of the company and try to avoid buying from them if I can.

      An ad is given a space on the webpage and it should not wander outside that space, period.
      lepoete73
  • Ads that follow you

    A little over a year ago while in graduate school in New York, my marketing professor invited a fellow from an online advertising company to deliver a presentation about the new trend in online advertising. The trend he described was a new way for online ad agencies to track your online browsing, via cookies of course, and record what sites and products you visited and viewed while internet browsing. The idea was that ads should be carefully personalized based on such browsing history and that they should "follow" your browsing habits.
    What the author of this article is describing is the implementation of that idea. The gentlemen who gave us the presentation told us that all major online advertising companies were building databases linking cookies with IP addresses and search-and-browsing histories to construct detailed profiles of users online. As expected, this information is up for grabs by the biggest bidder. Also as expected there are folks who are crying fowl over the privacy concerns that the implications of this new data mining techniques. I am of the belief that if ads are better targeted to me, I am a more happy internet user. I rarely, actually never, click on online ads, but have found myself mildly delighted when the ad shown on the side of the screen is the result of a previous interest I showed for a product or service on another site. To me that constitutes a better internet experience.
    The good news for those who are not fond of this practice is that you can turn off the ads that follow you simply deleting your cookies or using incognito mode while browsing.
    Lastly, here is a link to an article about this practice published in the NYTimes.com site in late August 2010: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/30/technology/30adstalk.html
    asg749d1
  • AdBlock Plus!!!

    That's the best and also the easiest solution! Check out adblockplus ((dot)) org - the program is free (and super easy to install/use), but if you possibly can, do make a donation for the programmer's excellent work!!
    :-)
    ECrawford1234
  • haha I recognize this!

    Google ad thing did the same thing while I was putting off buying VMWare Workstation; the banners were relentless; probably a waste of adv money as I had decided to buy it after wasting time trying to figure out VirtualBox's license with regard to real use. Still, it was kinda funny.

    It seems accurate enough, but I think it leans between obsessive or over responsive; seems to miss the middle ground that would be most effective.

    And no, advertisements don't offend me, don't move me much to purchase either..
    rwwff
  • A 'hosts' file is another way to block ads

    I almost never see ads on my screen, and when I do, I usually try to figure out the domain name of the source of the ad and add it to my hosts file. A Hosts file exists on practically all computers. Whatever is listed in it supersedes the internet address normally found through the DNS. I just set them all to 127.0.0.1. I have over 132000 domains blocked. It's easy enough to find good ad-blocking hosts files by a simple search.
    jdudeck9
    • Host Files

      I like this approach but it seems to require a lot of maintenance. No?
      You have to add the site manually to the host file. Am I correct?
      asg749d1
      • Maintenance

        Not necessarily: There are some programs that automatically add cookies to the hosts file. All you have to do is click kill/ignore when they pop up, and shortly they are nearly all gone.
        tomaaaaaa1
  • What it's really all about

    Tracking our internet browsing so they can turn a dollar is nothing but abuse with the biggest abusers being the multi-billionare companies that we willingly, and desperately depend on.

    These companies are turning our world, and not just on the internet but everywhere we look, into a uni-dimensional world where all is allowed in the name of consumer capitalism, including hounding us at every turn with the message to buy, whether you need it or not, because deep down they know, or think they know, that you can be manipulated by the pervasive messages telling you that you need it, it???s on sale, or some other inane message that serves their evangelical, profit-driven mindset where all, or at least almost all short of offensive perversions, is fodder for the masses as long as it sells.

    Instead of appealing to our pathos and making their methods part of our ethos, these companies should in all decency provide those of us who are offended by their pervasive and devious tracking a simple and effective way to opt out. Something that I doubt will never happen as long as making maximum amounts of money is the only morality they hold dear.

    "That's right, it's come to this,
    yes it's come to this,
    and wasn't it a long way down,
    wasn't it a strange way down?"

    Leonard Cohen - Dress Rehearsal Rag
    Mauro5
  • Advertisers getting it wrong

    I sometimes think that targeted advertising overlooks one major point. Once I have bought the item I want, why do I then need constant reminders that I was looking at it. I'm not likely to buy another one straight away. The ongoing ads are therefore only going to be an annoyance and make me not want to use the site that is generating them.
    notkermit
  • Computer behavorial stalking

    You must have missed the Stalkerleaks report on the secret conspiracy authored by the Internet Retailers, the Direct Marketing Assn., the MMA, and Google. Word has it the next step is databasing all your purchases through Visa, Mastercard, and PayPal so that you will be notified of the next item on sale from your personal, and here-to-fore secret "bucket wish list" of Clothing and Accessories.
    BaltimoreBarry