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I’m being chased around the internet by a shed | Stuart Heritage

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Im more than happy to be advertised to but products pursuing you from site to site can feel like a nagging puppy tugging on your trouser leg

A few weeks ago, I thought about buying a shed. I thought about buying a shed, and it was the most exciting thing I did that day, because Im a hot-rod rebel and my entire life is a thrill-a-minute joyride of unimaginable debauchery.

In the end, however, I didnt buy a shed mainly because it turns out that my tolerance for sheds is so abysmally low that I can only look at a maximum of three sheds before deciding that all sheds are stupid and only ninnies need them. However, that hasnt stopped me from being ambushed by adverts for sheds on a near-hourly basis ever since.

Thanks to a web cookie on the shed site telling an ad server that this is now my defining personality trait Stuart Heritage: shed enjoyer the vast majority of adverts I ensure online are now for sheds. It feels as if Im being stalked by sheds. It feels as if Im living in the first draft of an Edgar Allan Poe poem, writes to the working day before he realised that ravens are scarier than sheds.

Hey, shed guy! the adverts shrieking. Remember those sheds you looked at the other week? Theyre still here! Look how boxy and mundane they still are. Come on, click it. Click the shed.

Behavioural retargeting, this is called. Opportunities are youve encountered it, too. Perhaps you once went on Amazon, strictly to see whether the word Singalongamax had hyphens in it or not, and now you cant move for Max Bygraves adverts. Maybe you ordered your partner a NutriBullet for her birthday, and every site you subsequently visited carried an advert for NutriBullets, and you had to fling a coat over your screen every time she came in the room in case it ruined the astonish, and now shes remain convinced that you suffer from a crippling porn addiction. Behavioural retargeting is everywhere, and its infuriating.

The easy way out would be for everyone to merely install an adblocker and be done with it. Surely, thats what people are doing in their droves its been estimated that up to a one-quarter of adults use them.

But this is where I have to draw a line in the sand, because Im not a monster. If I use a site any site: a news site or a forum or social media its because it has some worth to me, and I dont want to see it go anywhere. Thats what adverts are for. You put up with a peripheral banner telling you how funny The Book of Mormon is, and the site get paid as a result. But when you install an adblocker, you remove this revenue stream and the sites you like started to suffer. By installing an adblocker, youre actively contributing to the reduced to the internet. If you install an adblocker, one day everything you enjoy is hereby replaced by three rotating Facebook clickthrough galleries entitled The Industrial and Commercial Bank of China Presents 21 Funny Faces That Dogs Pull When Theyre Horny, and youll have nobody to blame but yourself.

The problem I have isnt so much with adverts themselves, but with the specific adverts that follow you around from site to sites like a wounded puppy, tugging on your trouser leg until you eventually put it out of its sadnes. Before it was sheds, it was coats. Before it was coats, it was coffee tables. Im also being stalked by a pair of shoes that I looked at once, and now bloodlessly creep into my Facebook stream at all opportunities. Theyre nice shoes, too, but I refuse to buy them as a matter of principle. If those shoes ever run near my feet, the internet will have won and Ill be no better than a child.

Marketers know how infuriating retargeting is, too. In 2014, researchers performed a study into retargeting, and found that people generally get more riled the more they see an ad for something they had previously looked at online. They overwhelmingly said that the adverts induced them angry and, if they ever happened to see an advert for something they had already bought, they instantly became four times more likely to never buy it again.

Clearly, retargeting has its upsides if they didnt increase sales on some level they wouldnt exist, plus its now easier than ever to sweep through your office, clock everyones retargeted banner ads and make a discreet inventory of all the perverts whove ever thought about buying adult-sized Peppa Pig duvet covers but the downsides vastly outnumber them. If they rile people so much that they would rather install an adblocker and choke their favourite sites to death in the process, then something needs to be done.

Luckily, something can be done. Theres a little blue triangle in the corner of these adverts. Click it, and youll be able to opt-out of most retargeted ads. Youll still insure adverts, but they wont be the same creepily omnipresent ads that would otherwise haunt your every move. And thats a win-win. You stop feeling like youre being stalked by a shed, the site still constructs money and nobody has to build the uncomfortable decision to install an adblocker. Youre merely left with the perfect, undiluted web experience you always wanted. Good writing, helpful debate and several dozen ill-advised Ten Celebrities You Didnt Know Were Jewish sponsored-link galleries clogging up the bottom of every single article you ever read. Perfect.

Read more: www.theguardian.com

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