Is there anything to fear from "retargeting"?

Discussion in 'privacy problems' started by davidjschenk, May 29, 2009.

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  1. davidjschenk

    davidjschenk Registered Member

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    Hello fellow members,

    I was just visiting some charity sites that I charitably frequent and ran into a new ad gizmo they threw onto their pages. Noscript seems successfully to have blocked it, but I am curious about its behavior for those unfortunate enough not to have direct control over their browsers' scripts.

    The gizmo is called "fetchback" (a la fetchback.com) and it uses scripts to "retarget" site visitors once they have left the marketer's website. To me, who does not know squat about scripting, this sounds like some odd kind of persistent cookie or LSO. Is my hunch correct or incorrect? If it is a persistent cookie, is Noscript enough to block it, or are additional measures needed? Assuming Noscript is enough, can it be blocked without Noscript in, say, Internet Explorer, assuming that Joe User has not manually turned off all scripting functions in the browser?

    I wonder if we aren't seeing the emergence of another form of silent privacy intrusion by marketers, here. (Or is all of this totally old news and I just need to catch up with the rest of the online universe?)

    Does anyone here know more about the retargeting technology, how it operates, what privacy implications it has and how best to block it?

    Thanks much,

    David
     
  2. Cudni

    Cudni Global Moderator

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    if it is a cookie then NS will not block it as it deals only with scripting. Other browsers will not block it either unless you block cookies generally which is not necessary (should block 3rd party cookies though).
     
  3. davidjschenk

    davidjschenk Registered Member

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    Hi Cudni,

    Thanks for the response. Okay, then they're not cookies. I even tested this by enabling the script once to see what would happen--no cookie requests occurred. But that leads to the question, just what are they?? How, without cookies, do they manage to track a user and follow him/her onto newly navigated pages? I mean, the stated purpose of retargeting is that they deliver the customer's ads to us after we've left their web page. Does anyone know how they manage this? Clearly, scripting is involved, but how? What do they do?

    As this is the first time I've seen this sort of thing, I'm very interested to learn how it works and what needs to be done in order to block it.

    Yours,

    David
     
  4. axle00

    axle00 Registered Member

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    It seems that they just track you using web bugs (i.e. their so-called "smart pixels"), and their "patent-pending" FIDO ad server.

    Basically it seems that:

    1. You go to a site that has their smart pixels on it
    2. This web bug (smart pixel) records your IP address, the time you loaded the page, the
    web page you came from, and what ads you viewed etc etc.
    3. Then when you go to another web page that is participating in their program (i.e. has a smart pixel on it), the type of ads that you viewed on any previous page (which were recorded) are then displayed on the new page, via their FIDO server. These would be similar ads advertising the same sort of products.

    This is basically the same way that banner ads track you across the internet. The difference seems to be that their FIDO ad server dynamically serves ads that are "relevant" to you based on which ads you viewed previously. It then does other things like tracks how many similar ads it served to you before you finally purchased a product, and then sends this information to their client, among other similar statistics.

    Honestly I don't think this is anything particularly new.

    edit: You can disable web bugs in NoScript, by checking the "forbid web bugs" box, in the advanced tab under options.
     
    Last edited: May 30, 2009
  5. davidjschenk

    davidjschenk Registered Member

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    Hi axle00,

    Thanks very much for the reply; that makes total sense and puts me at ease. Web bugs are as old as the hills, so this is no sweat.

    Yours,

    David
     
  6. axle00

    axle00 Registered Member

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    You're welcome :)

    I'm not sure if my explanation is totally accurate, but from browsing their site it seems to be what they're doing.
     
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