Does behavioural targeting and retargeting work? What about privacy issues?

An outdated mechanism of providing personalised recommendations based on previous purchases and interactions has rapidly transformed into an era of real-time suggestions based on what you are planning to buy now. What is behavioural targeting?

Being an online shopper, you may have been confronted by an advertisement that exactly advertises what you are looking for. This is behavioural targeting (interest-based advertising). Let’s see a short video to understand what exactly behavioural targeting is.

Source: IAB

An extension of behavioural targeting is retargeting.

The retargeted ads follow you across devices, which are independent of locations. For instance, if you were looking for a watch at work using your laptop, you might see an advertisement for the same watch when browsing through your tablet at home. This is triangulation.

But how do websites or search engines know what you are looking for?

Various tracking objects like cookies and web beacons are installed by websites into your browser (mostly, without our knowledge). These objects track your online behaviour & activities to figure out what you are looking for. Techniques like deep packet inspection (DPI) and browser fingerprinting are also used for the same purpose.

Personalised ad spaces are already allocated by most websites and they show you the ads related to you even if these ads are not related to their business model. Various government agencies and marketing institutes have associated these advertisements with enormous privacy issues. But what kind of data is really being collected?

To deliver targeted ads, George Mathew stated in a kissmetrics blog that cookies bring together information like:

  • the web pages browsed
  • cart abandonments
  • the time spent on particular pages
  • the click mechanism (number of clicks, clicked links)
  • how you interact with the website

Is collection of this kind of data really intruding your privacy?

Although a lot of marketers collect personally identifiable information for marketing purpose, but the data collected for behavioural targeting is classified as non-PII (personally identifiable information). This does not lead to identifying any specific individual, but rather targeted ads are absolutely generated on behalf of user’s online behaviour.

Certainly, marketers enjoy better click through rate, conversion rate and ROI through behavioural targeting as identified by Network Advertising Initiative. But these targeted ads are also beneficial to consumers:

  1. Relevancy — Without any doubt, we surely do appreciate how web could change its appearance according to our needs and provide us with relevant content. We would definitely see more of this in the Web 3.0
  2. Deals & Discounts — Sometimes targeted ads offer us a much better deals and discounts than we would be able to discover
  3. do-not-forget effect — These targeted ads generates a do-not-forget effect by following you on all the websites where personalised ad spaces have been allocated. You will never miss an important subscription renewal, booking a hotel or buying a gift

Following proper guidelines and practices, the Data Protection Act, the IAB guide to behavioural targeting and all other opt-in & opt-out policies along with do-not-track lists, behavioural advertisements demonstrates promising win-win situation for all the stakeholders involved in a transaction.

What do you think about it? Click below to record your response:

My Opinion

Originally published at on July 20, 2015.

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