We all know the feeling: we look at a nice pair of shoes online, decide not to buy it, and suddenly those shoes show up as display ads on every other website we visit. After two more days of looking at those shiny new kicks, our resistance is broken and we place an order. Mission accomplished.
These personalized offers that appear to be following you around are based on a practice called retargeting, i.e. the targeting of consumers based on their previous online activity. Once the consumer looks at a certain product, he or she is “tagged” with a tracking pixel, enabling the advertiser to show targeted display ads to that person on third-party websites. Apart from the obvious lesson not to look for your spouse’s birthday presents on the family computer, this tells us something that we should probably all be aware of when using the internet: we are not alone.
According to a new study by Ghostery, 77 percent of all page loads contain at least one tracker. Be it for statistical or advertising purposes, tracking scripts enable companies to look over our shoulder when we’re surfing the web. As you probably would have guessed, Google is the biggest data hog when it comes to our online behavior. As our chart illustrates, the search and advertising giant tracked 64 percent of all page loads in the studied sample of 144+ million page loads.