Privacy glossary

Retargeting

A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z

What is retargeting?

Retargeting is a specific type of ad targeting, in which you’re shown ads for something that you’ve shown interest in buying. For example, if you put an item in your shopping cart on an e-commerce site, but you don’t check out, you might start seeing ads for that item all over the Web. Those ads are retargeted.

Why is retargeting used?

If you’ve already shown interest in a product, the advertiser knows that showing you an ad for this same product is more likely to result in a purchase. (Maybe—the logic goes—you just forgot about it; maybe seeing the ad will remind you.) Because you’ve previously shown interest and there’s thus a higher likelihood to purchase, advertisers are willing to pay more than usual to buy that ad.

How does retargeting work?

To show how retargeting works, let’s use an example:

Imagine you searched for something on an e-commerce site, spent a long time looking at the item’s page, but then navigated away to another page. A tracker will record this activity. Then, any other site that hosts the same tracker can use this information to show you retargeted ads for the same item. A not-so-subtle reminder to go back and buy.

Retargeted ads rely on the same online tracking and surveillance as other types of ads, but they tend to feel more invasive because they’re so obviously tied to your prior online activity. They can show up on many seemingly-unrelated websites.

How can I prevent retargeting?

Blocking trackers will prevent you from seeing retargeted ads, and blocking ads will prevent you from seeing ads altogether. The best way to do this is to use a browser, like Brave, with built-in ad and tracker blocking.

Another way is to install an ad-blocking extension in your browser. However, as with any extension, ad-block extensions can introduce privacy and performance risks of their own. They’re developed by third-party developers who may or may not be trustworthy. They may collect data about your browsing activity. They may even slow down your browser, and drain your battery life. In other words, they can cause some of the same problems that ads do.

Some browsers try to mitigate these risks by limiting what they allow extensions to do. However, that creates a different problem: With limited capabilities, extensions might not be able to do comprehensive, fully effective ad blocking. There’s a fundamental tradeoff between safe extensions and powerful extensions. Blocking features built into browsers—like Brave Shields—avoid this tradeoff entirely.

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