Ask Leo! #634 – Why Do Ads Follow Me Around the Internet? (and more)

Newsletters and Videos

I want to thank everyone for their feedback on the new look of the newsletter, as well as on my video posts.


Feedback on this new format for the newsletter has been overwhelmingly positive, so I’ll continue to move forward with it. There might be a slight tweak here and there, but overall this more streamlined approach is here to stay for a while.


The majority of people don’t actually watch my videos. Smile

So I’ll be dialing it back a little in one way, and expanding it in another:

  • I’ll do fewer “talking head” videos – probably dialing it back to once a month or so. I, too, like the sense of contact actually seeing a real person can provide, so I don’t want to abandon it completely. I also want to stay in practice.
  • I’m working on a project that will deliver more screen-capture how-to videos for patrons. I hope to have news on that next week.

Video Transcripts

One thing I heard loud and clear was the importance of transcripts for all videos. While most might not watch the videos, the vast majority read the transcripts.

This is actually something I’ve realized for a long time, and all my videos for something like the last year – perhaps longer – have always included a transcript within a couple of days of the video’s publication.

Not only do many people prefer to read, it’s searchable (whereas video is not, today), and can help make what is said much clearer, especially to those who don’t speak English natively.

This will not change. When I post a video, it’ll have a transcript (within a day or two – it does take time).

I’m actually surprised more video publishers don’t do this.


A couple of comments made me wonder if folks are missing the audio player at the end of all new articles.

I record myself reading (almost) every article out loud, and provide that as an MP3 you can listen to on the page using the embedded player (modern browsers requried), download, or subscribe to as an RSS feed or podcast. (For video posts, the mp3 contains the audio track only.)

In fact, that’s what The Ask Leo! Podcast is all about.

For those who’ve expressed an interest in listening, I hope this helps.

Thanks, again, for all your input. I truly appreciate it.


Why Do Ads Follow Me Around the Internet?


After visiting major online computer and electronics retailers’ websites, I find that they have tracked items I looked at, combined with my computer’s browser settings or web address and then displayed these items as pop-up ads in my other browser pages. I believe something from the computer store website has inserted spyware into my browser settings and I refuse to trust any spyware. If I increase the security settings, many sites I need to visit no longer function. I have pop-up blocking enabled and expensive anti-virus working, but this is circumvented. I can individually block the sites, but how or what can remove their new spyware from my computer?

Let me put your mind at ease: this isn’t spyware, and it’s not malicious.

It may be a little creepy, but there’s no evil intent other than marketing.


What you are seeing is an advertising technique called “remarketing.”

All it means is that you have visited a site using an advertising service that offers this now very common service.

It works like this:

  • You visit a shopping site, or a site that offers some kind of service.
  • They don’t show ads, per se, but they do include some content provided by an advertising network.
  • That content allows the advertising network to place a cookie on your computer that says, in effect, “this computer was looking at X”, where X is the product or service offered by the site you’re visiting.
  • Eventually, you move on to another site, perhaps even
  • That site is supported, in part, by advertising, so ads are displayed.
  • Coincidentally, that site uses the same advertising network as the previous site.
  • That advertising network is given its own cookie back – the one that says, “this computer was looking at X”.
  • That advertising network then elects to show you ads for “X”, since it “knows” that your computer has shown an interest in it.

There are several variations on the technique, and I’m sure that the implementation is significantly more complex than I’ve outlined.

As a concrete example, I often visit the website of the hosting company that I use, – it’s just part of my daily activity as I manage the servers that host my web sites. For the longest time, I started seeing ads for LiquidWeb as I moved on to other sites on the internet.

Advertising and tracking

It’s creepy because it feels like someone is following you. It’s like you visited a jewelry store, and as soon as you left someone started following you, pestering you to purchase from that store. “I know you’re interested because you came into the store and looked at this ring. Here it is again. Are you sure you don’t want to buy it?”

Like I said, creepy.

It’s important to realize that this type of tracking isn’t technically “tracking” you as an individual; it’s just a side effect of the places your computer has visited. Honestly, I’d be shocked if the information was kept very long. There’s a very good chance that simply clearing cookies will cause the remarketing system to forget what your computer has seen, and begin the whole process over again.

It really is only about showing you ads for things you’ve somehow shown an interest in. It’s certainly not spyware, and it’s not some kind of malicious software installed on your machine. It’s simply advertisers leveraging how the internet and web browsers work.

There’s nothing you can really do about it without using an ad-blocking solution. Being an advertising-supported site myself, I have mixed feelings about that.

I know it makes some people uncomfortable, and understandably so. But ultimately, there’s really nothing nefarious or underhanded going on here.

This is an update to an article originally posted in Answercast #42 on August 8, 2012

Related Links & Comments: Why Do Ads Follow Me Around the Internet?

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2016’s Most Popular Articles

My, oh, my, but hasn’t 2016 been a year full of controversy and change?

And yes, I really am just talking about technology. 💂

As we start the new year, it’s good to review exactly what grabbed people’s attention in 2016.

Continue Reading: 2016’s Most Popular Articles

How Should I Back Up an Encrypted Hard Disk?

I encrypt my hard disk with BitLocker. My backup program tells me it can only perform a “sector by sector” backup, whatever that is. So, when I back up, is the backup encrypted or not? If not, how should I back up securely?

As with so many things, the answer is: it depends.

Different backup programs work in different ways, particularly when it comes to encrypted disks.

And even then, what actually happens may not reflect what probably should happen.

Continue Reading: How Should I Back Up an Encrypted Hard Disk?

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