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Firstly a disclaimer, I am part of the problem rather than part of the solution. Indago Digital uses as much digital data as possible to drive results for our clients. Now that’s out of the way I’d like to give you an overview of how your personal information is used to track and influence your behaviour around the web.

Creating individually customised adverts for each potential customer is the utopian dream for marketers. What was once considered advertising paradise is now advertising reality thanks to digital marketing.

Almost every advertiser now collects a digital finger print of its potential customers and uses that finger print to show them customised marketing messages. If you want to try this for yourself visit almost any online retailer or airline and then visit Facebook, within seconds you will be remarketed with an advert from the website that you have just visited.

How does it work?

Websites use cookies to store information about your browsing habits. The cookie fires each time the user loads a new webpage and records the actions the user has just completed. This can include things like logging into a website or items that were in a user’s digital basket.

There have been concerns regarding cookies usage since they were first rolled out nearly 20 years ago. You will notice that if you visit a European website you will be prompted to accept that the site requires cookies to work. This was due to an EU directive in 2009 that websites had to obtain consent from their users when cookie tracking. Whilst Europe has led the way unfortunately Australia continues to lag behind with its digital policy making.

Where the cookie market gets murkier is the sale and sharing of data. If for example you owned a major car sales site your data is extremely valuable to car manufacturers. The car sales site could sell all of the cookies of users who have looked at 3 different mid-size family cars in the last 90 days. You can infer from their browsing data that they are in the market for a mid-size family car. The car sales website can then sell the cookies to the car manufacturers of mid-sized family cars. The manufacturers then use this cookie pool to serve adverts to these people when they visit websites that accept advertising. Taking it a stage further this data will also be sold to car insurance and finance companies.

Google

Google uses cookies to allow it’s advertisers to remarket to users who haven’t bought an item with similar items. Google does this by recording which items a user has looked at on a website. It retargets the user with a dynamic creative when they visit a website that is part of the Google Display Network. This technique is particularly effective for retail clients. For example if you had visited a website that sells tents but not made a purchase you would be remarketed with an advert showing that tent and other similar tents like below.

Facebook

Facebook has made huge strides in selling targeted advertising over the last 3 years. In October 2013 they released custom audiences for all advertisers. Custom audiences allows advertisers to upload email addresses of their customers to Facebook. They are then matched to Facebook’s email address records and allow the advertisers to target them. 

How do I avoid being tracked online?

Unfortunately there is no one simple answer to this question. The easiest thing to do is to change your browsers settings to send a “Do Not Track” request for your browsing traffic. This option can be found in all major browser settings, see below for an example. 

Another way to see which trackers are being used on which websites is to install Ghostery. Below we can see that 22 trackers are running on news.com.au homepage. 

Until the government steps in to better regulate digital marketing in Australia the best way to avoid advertising following you around the internet is to use the private browsing setting in your browser and to clear your web history and cookies every single day.

Tom Sadler is Sales and Marketing Director for www.indagodigital.com.au