On cookies, remarketing and privacy on Internet


Being in social media domain, I do a lot of work related research in incognito to avoid being stalked by the content of sites I visit. But the thought to write about it was triggered few days back by a twitter interaction where @a1purva shared a tweet about how many people notice brands’ remarketing effort, as a matter of success for marketer.

There is no debate that people would certainly notice brands’ effort to reach out to those users who had visited their website; if not in first stance, then after a while. However for marketers, one important question is whether the users really like it or they feel annoyed and take it as invasion of privacy.


So, once I have browsed for a certain product on an e-comm site, or checked a site which wants to target me for its product/service; no matter which site I visit afterwards, I will keep on seeing the same products, including on Facebook as sponsored stories. Welcome to the world of Remarketing! Brands want to sell more to whoever already bought something. Also if user didn’t buy something then brands assume that the user left the process in between and hence should be stalked so that user comes back to complete the process (read: buy the product). This may be true too. Many a times we see a thing but are not sure so we don’t buy it, and in that case a continuous appearance may help us make our mind in favor.  However what if I checked out something and found that prices are not of my budget, or it doesn’t fulfil my requirements? Or if someone used my computer for some time and I am forced to be stalked by sites browsed by them. Worse, someone borrows my computer and knows what all I search for?  I have read a lot of instances where people didn’t get any surprise in their surprise gifts thanks to Remarketing! This is even worse form of remarketing. Rather showing users products based on their purchase and on-site browsing behavior, if you show what the user purchased or subscribed to, you are wasting your efforts!

How brand stalk the users

There is a remarketing tag (code snippet) added on each page of website, to track user’s footprints and create remarketing list. When a user visits a site and browses through various pages, the site captures their surfing behavior and drops cookies to the user’s computer. These cookies help brand to identify visitors and track their visits. So through these cookies and remarketing tag, they start stalking the users wherever they go.

Many experts would suggest removing the cookies periodically to get rid of such remarketing stalkers, but there are two issues:

1)     Most of the normal web surfers don’t know this concept of removing cookies (yes, yet..!)

2)     Even if they know the cookie removal process, Many a times, there are some other cookies stored which the users would not want to remove and most of the net users don’t know how to remove a site specific cookies

The solutions before users

There are a few options before the users to get rid of unwanted stalking:-

clear cache1)     Try incognito, if you really don’t want to get stalked. Pages that you view in incognito tabs don’t come in your browser’s history, cookie store or search history once you close all the incognito tabs.

2)     Clear the cache from the history. All you need to do is go to history, clear the cache, cookies and other downloaded data for past hour (or longer) once you are done with visiting the site, you don’t want to be stalked by!

manage exceptions3)     Create exception of removing cookies on exit from the sites, you normally shop from or are worried not to be stalked from. Well, this too is no big deal. Again in browser settings, you need to change the content settings.

Scope for Marketers

If all the users start doing this where is the scope of marketers!? Well, as a marketer you must understand that if someone is taking pain of deleting cookies, they are not interested being pestered by you and they would rather reach to your site for desired action, if they really want to!  Anyhow you are getting a lot of user behaviour data which can be used to show other site surfers the relevant products for them! But the bigger solace is that many users are not going to do it anyway, so marketers can still re-target their site visitors.

Is there any practice, that you think can be mutually beneficial, both for marketers and buyers? Share your views in comment section.

ps. I am thankful to my colleagues Salil and Ashish for giving time for my annoying queries around such topics.

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