Online ads can trail you across devices – creepy, smart business, or both?

drawbridge devicesTargeted ads are always a little uncanny – it’s kind of disconcerting to see ads for those ski boots you were just looking at, since it’s pretty clear advertisers are keeping a watchful eye on your browsing habits. But things are getting even stranger. Now, if your daydreaming and looking up info about a potential trip to Hawaii on your work computer, you can see ads from places like Expedia on your iPad at home. Ads can follow you from one device to another. 

There are a few different ways advertisers are learning to trail you off your desktops and onto mobile devices (and vice versa.) 

“Triangulation:” Creepin’ by any other name, or simple innovation?

One of the methods used by targeted ad specialists like Drawbridge involves sending cookies to various devices in the same area. If the cookies reveal patterns of behavior on multiple devices, it “triangulates” the position of multiple devices with the same owner, and begins a targeted ad campaign. There’s no limit to the amount of devices that can be paired up, so even if you have a ton of different gadgets, you’ll have no reprieve from the targeted ads (unless you keep them very far apart from each other.)

CEO and Founder of Drawbridge Kamakshi Sivaramakrishnan feels confident that the measures Drawbridge uses do not invade privacy. “Drawbridge’s technology does not access a single piece of Personally Identifiable Information about the user, be it an email handle, a social handle, full legal name, phone number, physical address, etc. Our technology is based on fully anonymous signals – also known as “features” – that are spatio-temporal and behavioral in nature. For example, features include the applications and sites that a user visits on their mobile and desktop devices, and the times of day and locations where their devices are are accessing the internet,” she says.

So even though they’re figuring out if that Galaxy S3 and MacBook Pro belong to the same person, they’re not cataloging personal stuff like your Twitter handle – just that you’ve gone on Twitter frequently on both devices. This makes it harder to be 100 percent accurate, but may assuage some privacy concerns. Right now, Drawbridge normally has around a 60-70 percent accuracy.

When asked if people who don’t like the idea of being followed by Drawbridge clients can opt out, Sivaramakrishnan explains that there is a simple way to avoid getting these ads: “It is very easy, if the users opts out of being targeted on any one of his or her devices and we have identified the user across their other devices, we will carry over their preference on every other device. Drawbridge has partnered with TRUSTe and offers the ad choices preference manager (an industry first) on all in-application banner inventory. The user can therefore not only opt out on their desktop or laptop device, but also can do the same on their mobile devices.” Sivaramakrishnan pointed out that more information about the TRUSTe partnership is available online – so that’s a good sign that even targeted ad servers are cognizant that their behavior might freak some people out.

Social media ads know you no matter what device you use 

Screen Shot 2013-05-02 at 2.19.49 PM When advertisers go through Facebook, the company says it doesn’t give them the data necessary to determine how to reach you across multiple devices, but they don’t have to – since you use the same Facebook account no matter what device you’re on, you’ll see ads targeted towards you whether you’re browsing from an iPad or looking at a friend’s pictures through the new Facebook Home. And Facebook now partners with four data brokerage companies, Acxiom, Datalogix, Epsilon, and BlueKai. When a company wants to launch a targeted ad campaign through Facebook, they use data from these brokers to hit your account, no matter what device you use. And even though Facebook made it marginally easier to opt out of some targeted ads, you still have to opt out of each partnered service, and even then your page won’t be ad-free, just rid of ads from specific companies.

And, of course, beyond Facebook, there are other powerful social networks that work with targeted ads – Google being potentially the most major ad player. And even though ads aren’t as garish on Twitter as they are on Facebook, promoted content based on user interest is still a thing – so even though promoted tweets blend in with your normal feed, they’re still there – and they’re still tailored to your interests.

So what should I do if I hate targeted ads?

You can opt out of as much as you can, and complain when services don’t give you an opportunity to opt out. Digital Trends talked to Aleecia M. McDonald, the Director of Privacy at the Center for Internet and Society. She wasn’t too optimistic about the situation. “There are very limited tools for users to control this sort of tracking and linking.”

“The most pervasive is the DAA opt-out, but it does not help much here. DAA opt-outs only change the types of ads people see, but not change data collection or other uses like linking devices together. Unfortunately, right now the best way to limit tracking is to block all advertising. Ad blocking is a very blunt approach when most people are OK with seeing ads, just not OK with giving up personal data that goes with ads. It is a shame to lose ad revenue for all ads, but that is the state of privacy today. Unless and until there is a meaningful solution to limit data collection through self-help tools like Do Not Track or from legislation, the best privacy protection is to use ad blockers.” 

So you might want to adjust your expectations, because this sort of targeted ad delivery is highly unlikely to go away, unless serious legislative changes prevent companies from using services like Facebook’s personalized ads or Drawbridge. If companies see an opportunity to get their ads in front of people who are more likely to buy their products, they will always take them.

Smart Home

Row your way to a healthy bod with the CityRow Go connected rowing machine

Want the connected experience of a Peloton but dislike biking? You can now feel the burn of a cardio-busting rowing session from the comfort of your living room with the new CityRow Go connected home rowing machine.

Where are you going this weekend? These 5 off-road vehicles say 'anywhere'

The body-on-frame SUV is going extinct, but there are still several options for buyers looking to skip the asphalt. To help you sort the good from the bad, we've rounded up the best off-roaders currently available.

Thinking of driving for Uber? These cars are safe, comfy, and fuel-efficient

Uber is a viable means for making money on the side, but you won't earn much if all of your profits are going direct toward fuel and maintenance. Thankfully, these five cars are a perfect fit for those looking to shuttle passengers from…

Here are the best laptop deals for November 2018

Whether you've started a new school year, are shopping for a student, or you just need a new computer, we've got you covered: These are the best laptop deals going right now, from discounted MacBooks to on-the-go gaming PCs.
Social Media

Snapchat’s PR firm is suing an influencer for failing to influence

Snapchat's PR firm is suing a social media influencer for his alleged failure to promote Spectacles on Instagram. Actor Luka Sabbat was paid $45,000 upfront, but the suit claims he fell well short of the terms of the deal.

Urban legends for the digital age: The best scary stories from the internet

In need of some simple scares this Halloween? We've combed the internet for the best creepypastas, urban legends, and scary stories. From found footage YouTube videos to a deceptively scary wiki, these stories are sure to spook.

WhatsApp finally gives in to the lure of cash-generating ads

WhatsApp's co-founders always said their messaging app would never show ads, but once the pair quit the company, it seemed inevitable that its owner, Facebook, would find a way to incorporate them.

Shazam hooks up with Instagram Stories for another way to share songs

The latest update for Apple-owned Shazam lets iPhone users share music tracks to Instagram Stories in a few quick taps. To enable the feature, just make sure you have the latest version of Shazam loaded on your handset.
Social Media

Dine and dash(board): Make a Yelp reservation from your car’s control panel

Already in the car, but can't decide where to eat? Yelp Reservations can now be added to some dashboard touchscreens. Yelp Reservations searches for restaurants within 25 miles of the vehicle's location.

Hackers sold 120 million private Facebook messages, report says

Up to 120 million private Facebook messages were being sold online by hackers this fall. The breach was first discovered in September and the messages were obtained through unnamed rogue browser extensions. 

Switch up your Reddit routine with these interesting, inspiring, and zany subs

So you've just joined the wonderful world of Reddit and want to explore it. With so many subreddits, however, navigating the "front page of the internet" can be daunting. You're in luck -- we've gathered 23 of the best subreddits to help…
Social Media

Facebook opens pop-up stores at Macy’s, but they’re not selling the Portal

Facebook has opened pop-up stores at multiple Macy's, though they're not selling Facebook's new Portal device. Instead, they're showcasing small businesses and brands that are already popular on Facebook and Instagram.
Social Media

Facebook Messenger will soon let you delete sent messages

A feature coming to Facebook Messenger will let you delete a message for up to 10 minutes after you send it. The company promised the feature months ago and this week said it really is on its way ... "soon."
Social Media

Pinterest brings followed content front and center with full-width Pin format

Want to see Pinterest recommendations, or just Pins from followed users? Now Pinners can choose with a Pinterest Following feed update. The secondary feed eliminates recommendation and is (almost) chronological.