Remember Amazon Prime Day? That’s the day where Amazon acts like the sidewalk sale at the local Mall or the sidewalk sale downtown where retailers have plenty of unsold merchandize they need to get rid of and are willing to do so but often fail to cut the prices. You just assume that prices are low because it’s a sidewalk sale. It’s like Walmart that way.
Anyway, during Amazon Prime Day 2017 I searched for a few hours in a vain attempt to pick up bargains for items on my shopping list. In the end, I bought one item of the thousands searched. Only did I find out later that Amazon had few actual bargains relative to the number of products offered on Prime Day.
Over the course of the next week, many of those items I searched for but did not buy starting showing up in advertisements as I browsed favorite websites. Note to future self: search Amazon while using a VPN.
Even though I clean my browser of cookies every day, Amazon was able to track me while I browsed online, and based upon recent Amazon Day searches, followed me around and nagged me with advertisements for those products.
That’s not all.
It would appear that Amazon shares some of my shopping and searching history with third parties as ads for the same products appeared from other retailers. Just to test my theory, I checked a few, and sure enough, they eventually made it back to Amazon.
A week later I tried the same thing on B and H Photo and Video in New York. I’ve purchased there a number of times and selection is good, prices low, and service great. Before browsing around on B&H, though, I made a list of 12 different items and searched extensively for each, putting some in my shopping cart, then deleting a few afterwards.
Again, over the next few weeks I saw many ads from B&H on websites I frequent, as well as advertisements from manufacturers of the very products I searched for.
You know what’s going on, right? We’re being stalked by online retailers.
How is this possible?
How the internet is structured and how browsers work combine to create an untenable situation. Whatever you want to call it, stalking or spying, retailers have an array of tools at their disposal to know who you are, what you shop for, when you shop, and collect enough information about you through other methods to build a complete online profile with far more details than you provide while browsing.
Can you escape the tracking and stalking?
Yes. And no.
Go off the grid. Forget about electricity and credit cards. Buy a plot of ground in the woods, put up some solar panels and water catchment systems, learn all about compost toilets, and become a 21st century Unabomber without the attitude.
Or, toss a few monkey wrenches into the stalking system. Use a VPN (virtual private network; I like TunnelBear among a few others, but the Opera browser has one built-in) so your IP address becomes more difficult to track. Manage cookies. I use Cookie. Add an ad blocker to your browser of choice. I use Ghostery and AdBlock Plus.
Will those steps prevent the stalking? No. But they give you more control over what you see and don’t see while browsing the web. Regarding Amazon, I’ve found that putting searched for items in the shopping cart, and then moving the items to Save For Later often gets me email from Amazon in a few days highlighting lower prices.
Yeah, I know. We’re playing Whack-a-Mole.