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Amazon Snooping Your Surfing For Targeted Ads? 124

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the shoulder-surfing-retailers dept.
Jewfro_Macabbi writes, "Recently after browsing major online retailers for Bluetooth adapters, I went to Amazon.com to find front-page ads for, you guessed it, Bluetooth adapters. Disable cookies, the ads go away; re-enable cookies and the ads re-appear. The EULA is ambiguous as usual. Try it for yourself and see."
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Amazon Snooping Your Surfing For Targeted Ads?

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  • by yagu (721525) * <yayagu@noSPaM.gmail.com> on Monday September 04, 2006 @01:57PM (#16039145) Journal

    I too tried to shop for bluetooth devices at a major online retailer... then I went to Amazon.com. Not a single reference anywhere to any bluetooth devices. For me the experiment ends there. I had cookies turned on (always do), and was logged into both sites with an account login.

    Aren't "other" cookies supposed to be invisible to a domain application? I thought so. So, is there a possibility you are surfing at some retailer that has a partnership of some kind with amazon (many do), and hence the information is shared in a partnership, but not across the proscribed browser boundaries?

    • Known issue (Score:5, Insightful)

      by XanC (644172) on Monday September 04, 2006 @02:05PM (#16039188)
      He's not claiming Amazon hacked his browser. It's been known for ages that if two sites both use the same ad company to display ads, that your activity on both sites can be linked. He's saying Amazon is using these data to target ads on their front page.
      • by Lord Prox (521892) on Monday September 04, 2006 @02:25PM (#16039284) Homepage
        I am building a website on website traffic tips n tricks and stumbled upon this...
        Retargeting [retargeting.com]
        I am 90% sure that this is what they are doing or some variation thereof. Inexpensive service that should work well.




        Place a curse in the RIAA/MPAA. [i-curse.com]
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by jrumney (197329)

          Inexpensive service that should work well.

          Step 4: The consumer returns to your site to complete the sale.

          Now you have the ability to send visitors directly to your "here is where we close the sale" page by doing some or all of the following:

          * Send them directly to the ordering page of the product they looked at before leaving.

          That should work well... if your intention is to make your potential customers think you are stalking them!

          • by Lord Prox (521892)
            OK, yeah. It is kinda creepy. But most of your average joe's won't get it and most folks that are looking to buy something won't/don't look that hard. Especialy for stuff less that 20-30 bucks. Impulse purchase range. Having the stuff they are looking for right on the front page is good for your business and easy/useful/valueable for the average Joe as well. What he was looking for came right up.
            • Wow. I thought america was going through tough economic times, with people taking 2nd jobs and stuff.
              My impulse purchase ceiling is about £3 ($5). Maybe it is because i can remember when £3 bought 5 (6) gallons of petrol.
              • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

                by cduffy (652)
                Individual americans are going through tough economic times in large part due to a culture of irresponsible debt spending. Having a comparatively high ceiling for impulse purchases is part and parcel.

                (Obviously, this doesn't apply to everyone).
                • by zmollusc (763634)
                  Heh :-)
                  That is a chicken/egg thing that hadn't occurred to me. Nice one.

                  Sadly, being a cheapskate doesn't seem to have improved my own tough economic times. Or does my miserliness cloud my view of how many blessings i have?
        • I see the retargeting banner ads all over my traffic analysis site and was wondering if anybody here had actually tried it and what, if any, their results were.

        • i've noticed that www.sitemeter.com pushes a lot of ads for retargetting.com

          not sure how widespread their memeber sites are as never looked into it but sounds like a good idea to me.

          Dean
      • She is not saying... I'm not a he))
      • >>It's been known for ages that if two sites both use the same ad company...

        and further more:
        doubleclick is the plague you would be refering to. 'Everyone' is using doubleclick in order to share a common cookie. doubleclick is the one tracking you, following you and report back to everyone else. There are a few others of course, like tribalfusion, Fastclick, etc..
        Everyone should be using a host file to block these, and keep scripting turned off except for trusted sites. (Your bank, not myspace
      • by mrmeval (662166)
        I would go to sites that had some code or other that would go to amazon, they would read my cookie and then feed a message to be displayed on that non amazon site. I don't think the site ever got any information but I suspect they got some sort of kickback from amazon.

        I ticked me off enough I just have their cookies deleted automatically when the session is over.

    • Amazon hosting? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Rosyna (80334) on Monday September 04, 2006 @02:18PM (#16039239) Homepage
      It seems more like amazon is hosting these major retailer's websites. For example, if you go to target.com it says on the bottom right, "Powered by Amazon.com". Amazon has their hands in a lot of retailers pockets. Mostly because it is just easier to pay amazon to do it than it is to set it all up yourself. Especially when amazon.com is a "proven" website.
      • by inKubus (199753)
        Yeah, amazon has pretty amazing fulfulment and warehousing. They carry almost everything so why not ship from them and make more money?

    • by erasmix (880448)
      I instruct Mozilla to ask me everytime a new cookie us comming in. I accept cookis from the stite I'm shopping at, but block cookies from outside and from sites like ads.site_Im_shopping.whatever. I also use ad block to block everything that is not relevant content. I can't stand ads and I dont wanna be tracked.
    • by fm6 (162816)

      Aren't "other" cookies supposed to be invisible to a domain application?

      Right. But not all cookies from a given web page necessarily come from a single domain. For example, if you browse a page from bluorus.com that contains a graphic served by amazon.com, you'll get cookies from both domains. Often the graphic is a "web bug": a 1 pixel by 1 pixel file whose only purpose is to create a tracking cookie.

      Obviously this isn't going to happen unless the web sites you browse have an affiliation with Amazon (or

    • by Nimloth (704789)
      "Recently after browsing major online retailers for Bluetooth adapters, I went to Amazon.com to find front-page ads for, you guessed it, Bluetooth adapters. Disable cookies, the ads go away; re-enable cookies and the ads re-appear. The EULA is ambiguous as usual. Try it for yourself and see."
      I think they took it off, cause all I see is ads for penis enlargement :/
    • I just tried this as well, and could not duplicate the poster's experience.

      Amazon does display certain widgets to help you find related items. For example, they have:
      - Recommendations based on products you have purchased, rated, etc., on Amazon
      - Recently view items based on products you have browsed on Amazon
      - Related items based on your searches on Amazon

      To the poster: can you be more specific in what you did?

      My guess is that you went to Amazon and either did a search or looked at a product, etc., and you
  • by BWJones (18351) * on Monday September 04, 2006 @01:58PM (#16039152) Homepage Journal
    How long did it take you to figure that out Jewfro_Macabbi?

    To my end user (of Amazon.com) knowledge, they have been doing this for at least a couple of years. Of course, the problem with the EULA is that the cookie is set as soon as you visit unless you explicitly disable cookies.

    Of course being anonymous is getting harder and harder these days (especially if you are surfing from a place that is having packets sniffed by someone like the NSA. (for kicks do a traceroute (*NIX and OS X, tracert on Windows) on NSA.gov from where you are and look for the AT&T hub that is splitting the traffic (The AT&T hub for my traffic is tbr1013801.dvmco.ip.att.net). I know my packets are sniffed coming from an edu domain as well.......

  • by Anonymous Coward
    The only way amazon could know you were looking for an item would be if they themselves set the cookie. I think you'll find one of the retailers you visited was an amazon shop or the like. I don't use these 'one-click' pioneers myself but this is just bullshit!
  • A9 or Alexa Toolbar (Score:5, Informative)

    by HTMLSpinnr (531389) on Monday September 04, 2006 @02:13PM (#16039221) Homepage
    I wonder if the original submitter happens to browse with the A9 [a9.com] or Alexa [alexa.com] toolbars enabled? Both are subsidiaries of Amazon.com [amazon.com]. One would need to review their EULA's though to see if said info can be used to target shopping ads from their own site.
    • No, I don't have either, and wouldn't. It's not that Amazon set a cookie, it's that they obviously are browsing through other cookies, propably looking for keywords to target ads.
      • it's that they obviously are

        Why is it "obvious"? They're doing something that's not feasible unless they own or are affiliated with the retailers you visited. When I read what you said, that was my "obvious" conclusion, not "OMG, they're snooping, it's obvious".

        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          I went and visited foreign based Islamic web sites for products, and Amazon recommended Islamic books and films after. I'm not seeing it as likely Amazon has partnerships with these companies....
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by fermion (181285) *
      While toolbars are the logical explanation, it could be that this person normally runs with cookies wide open. This means that the web usages is being tracked by the affiliate cookies. Though cookies are set up to be read only by the site that set them, most sites get around this by having double click, 2o7, etc set root tracking cookies. Therefore the average person, lets say the majority of the majority that still run IE wide open, is well tracked. It would be trivial to expand this to coded shopping
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Technician (215283)
        While toolbars are the logical explanation, it could be that this person normally runs with cookies wide open.

        Running AdAware and having a good hosts file go a long way in keeping the advitisers from setting tracking cookies.
      • by udderly (890305)
        I tried it with Firefox, IE and Opera...no dice on any of them. On Opera and Firefox I even allowed cookies from the sites I visited.
  • by DynaSoar (714234) * on Monday September 04, 2006 @02:18PM (#16039244) Journal
    While searching a bit torrent site for old episodes of La Femme Nikita, I was regaled by an ad which read:
    "Can't find La Femme? Buy it on eBay!"

    Really. Just a rental as per usual, or an all out purchase?
    Can I take it for a test drive?
    The shipping would probably be horrendous. I'll bet they sell them "pick up only". Which is, after all, the usual way. So who needs eBay?

    • by gbulmash (688770) *
      "While searching a bit torrent site for old episodes of La Femme Nikita, I was regaled by an ad which read: "Can't find La Femme? Buy it on eBay!""

      Of course this is Google AdSense (or possibly Overture) trying to provide keyword-targeted ads, based on your search term. The ads probably aren't even placed by EBay. If you click, some EBay affiliate pays Google some small fee, and you go to EBay tagged with an affiliate code. If you buy anything on EBay, they get a piece of the listing and final value f

    • Really. Just a rental as per usual, or an all out purchase? Can I take it for a test drive?

      Tough call... rental is expensive, but they tend to develop unexpected issues after about three to four years or so. Perhaps lease to buy?

      And on a serious note, I've been wondering where a certain tracking cookie was showing up from, but never quite got motivated enough to hunt the site down. Well, I just swept my system with Spybot S&D to make sure it was clean, went to Amazon.com, re-ran the search, and... lo

    • by zxking (777919)

      Well, you could also watch the old episodes of La Femme Nikita for free

      in their entirety, on AOL's broadband TV channel In2TV [aol.com]

  • by ericdano (113424) on Monday September 04, 2006 @02:20PM (#16039253) Homepage
    It's actually a Ninja named Roger [askaninja.com] who's pissed at him. He's waiting for the author to click on the wrong link.
  • my test (Score:3, Interesting)

    by gEvil (beta) (945888) on Monday September 04, 2006 @02:27PM (#16039293)
    After clearing my cache/cookies/etc, I closed and then reopened Firefox. I went to google and did a search for "bluetooth adapters." I middle clicked on everything on the results page except the amazon.com link. I then opened a new tab and went to amazon.com. They wanted to sell me LCD TVs, an electric toothbrush, some DVD box sets, iPod and cell phone cases, purses and messenger bags, and some watches. No bluetooth devices at all. Go figure...
    • Same for me. Except there were a _lot_ of sandals on the page too. Who knew sandals came in bluetooth variety?
      • Re:my test (Score:4, Informative)

        by gEvil (beta) (945888) on Monday September 04, 2006 @02:47PM (#16039379)
        I tried it again cos I like repeatability. This time I also clicked on all of the google "sponsored links." This time amazon wanted me to buy a Creative Zen, a smattering of sandals (guess it's time to clear out all those summer sandals), some Sony hifi stuff, pants and dresses, more shoes, and some more watches. Still no bluetooth stuff. However, if I click the amazon link from my bluetooth search and then open a new window and go to amazon.com via the address bar, the front page is chock full o' bluetooth adapters (with some sandals and watches at the bottom). Clearly Jewfro clicked on an amazon or target link earlier in his journeys in the tubes.
        • This is actually a) very useful, b) very clever on Amazon's part, and c) not at all slimy. IMO at least. Kudos to their web developers for making a relatively simple (technically speaking) mod that dramatically increased their store value to most people... at least, if you ignore the ultraParanoid amongst us.
          • by causality (777677)

            Kudos to their web developers for making a relatively simple (technically speaking) mod that dramatically increased their store value to most people

            Yes, because heaven forbid that people should objectively evaluate their own needs and use basic research skills to find the products and services that are most likely to meet those needs. Much better to have a bunch of bought-and-paid-for messages screaming at us to tell us what we need and what we should want and how we should spend our money. Oh, and ta

            • Damn! Overreact much? All he's saying is that it's nice that if you looked at something on Amazon, that when you go back to their site the next day, they present you with some of the things you looked at before (isn't that one of the purposes of cookies in the first place?). As for Jewfro's claim that Amazon is sniffing other site's cookies, I'm ridiculously skeptical of it, mainly because I've tried the exact test I've outlined above several times on different machines (different OSes and browsers) and con
            • Careful - search/replace Google in your comment, and you'll have people running to their defence! ;)
            • by gregmac (629064)

              Much better to have a bunch of bought-and-paid-for messages screaming at us to tell us what we need and what we should want and how we should spend our money.

              I know, something really needs to be done about advertisments. I can't tell you how many times I saw an ad and then suddenly found myself typing in my credit card number and home address, totally unable to control my own actions, ordering whatever item it was regardless of if I actually needed it or could have even used it at all. The worst is when you

              • by causality (777677)

                Much better to have a bunch of bought-and-paid-for messages screaming at us to tell us what we need and what we should want and how we should spend our money.

                I know, something really needs to be done about advertisments. I can't tell you how many times I saw an ad and then suddenly found myself typing in my credit card number and home address, totally unable to control my own actions, ordering whatever item it was regardless of if I actually needed it or could have even used it at all. The worst is when

                • by rjstanford (69735)
                  And while it's true that Amazon's actions cannot be compared to the adware/spyware authors, they also have a "good name" to protect (remember all the flak Sony caught over that rootkit?) and so they could not afford to attempt that marketer's-wet-dream of greater intrusion and control. As a result, they must take more limited steps. In the same direction.

                  You know, I'm still not understanding how Amazon remembering what you previously looked at on their website and bringing it to the forefront -- just like i
        • Were you totally offended and disgusted because they showed you stuff that you were just looking to buy (hypothetically) a few minutes ago?

          I don't get it... we all love computers and the Internet until they do something useful? I understand the scare, but it isn't there. The scary part would be if Amazon just sent you a bluetooth device and charged you for it. "We knew you'd be wanting this!"

          I just wish they would sell these technologies to porn marketeers. I know someone, somewhere already has a database o
          • Ummm, nope, not offended in the slightest. The final result was that the Amazon page is behaving EXACTLY the way I thought it would. It's not sniffing cookies from other sites. They're simply tracking (via their own cookie) the stuff that I looked at previously. They've even gone so far as to include a "Your recently viewed items" section at the bottom of the front page. If I clear out my cache and cookies and go to their page, they present me with a random sampling of various items that they sell. It's exa
  • A browser feature to block cookies that either: a) originate from a different domain than the top-level page or b) ignore cookies sent with non-HTML pages. I got the latter idea from CGIProxy.

    Firefox doesn't seem to have anything like this. Internet Explorer can be configured to block all "third-party" cookies. Opera doesn't appear to have anything like this either.

    Of course with Firefox you can get rid of the cookies as a side effect if you use Adblock or otherwise block ads.

    • Firefox doesn't seem to have anything like this. Internet Explorer can be configured to block all "third-party" cookies. Opera doesn't appear to have anything like this either.

      You know, it's amazing what you can find when you check the Cookies options/preferences when looking for Cookie settings.

      Firefox 1.5: Tools, Options, Privacy, Cookies, "for the originating site only" checkbox

      Opera 9: Tools, Preferences, Advances, Cookies, "Accept only cookies from the site I visit" radio button

      • I didn't say Firefox 1.5. Firefox 2 lacks the options you described, and I can't figure out what the about:config variable name for it is. I managed to look right over that Opera one (didn't realize it was what I was looking for).
  • I found out about the in the worst way possible a few months back. Me and a buddy were searching for artwork by Stephen Gammell [google.com], the illustrator of those infamous creepy Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark books. It was late at night and we were getting creeped out just looking at the artwork. But imagine then, going to Amazon to buy one of the books only to find that THE BOOKS ALREADY KNEW WE WANTED TO BUY THEM, and had marched to Amazon's front page to greet us with their hideous covers before we even go
    • Where my pops worked recently, a guy had a heart attack. They knew CPR and kept him going, but couldn't get his heart to beat on its own. The next day I went to amazon.com and the front page ad was for a defibrilator [amazon.com].

      True story.
  • What, are you new to this whole internet thing? Of course online marketers store your browsing information and sell it, that's how they exist. Are you also suprised at where all those 2o7.net cookies came from, and confused as to why some sites need to load images from dozens of different servers?

    Of course, it could also be that you're the kind of person who shops for things like bluetooth adapters on amazon and other sites in the past. So when you went back to amazon during this session they were using y

    • I wasn't going to Amazon to shop, but to look up some info on a book. I've never bought any bluetooth from Amazon. I also did a more thourough test. I went browsing round and about online for Jihad videos for a while. Then when I return to Amazon and check my recommendations, lo and behold this time I was offered books and films about Islam... This is not just about "Amazon" setting cookies, duh I knew that. This is about the potential amazon is searching through other cookies on my machine for keywords to
      • This is not just about "Amazon" setting cookies, duh I knew that. This is about the potential amazon is searching through other cookies on my machine for keywords to target ads.

        This is impossible. And if it were possible, it wouldn't be Amazon's fault, it would be your browser's fault. Amazon can only get the cookies that your browser sends them, your browser restricts the cookies that are sent back by domain name. If sitex.com sets a cookie and sitey.com sets a cookie, then further requests to sitey.com

  • .. think that trying to sell you exactly what you're looking for is a dispicable business practice and ought to be outlawed immediately!

    But seriously, maybe when you enabled cookies Amazon recognized you from a previous visit and through the magic of their recommendation engine, perhaps based on a previous purchase where other customers who bought the same item also bought a bluetooth adapter, guessed that you might in fact be looking for a bluetooth adapter.
  • Okay, so I don't necessarily like having records of my browsing habits stored by databases that can later be subpoenaed by the government, but it's basically unavoidable -- I know I keep extensive records of my site's visitors. And the privacy issue is largely secondary -- Amazon isn't interested in stalking you, they're interested in learning your buying habits to improve their own profits. The funny thing is that the best way for them to improve their profits is to sell you more stuff, and that means o

    • by Patik (584959)
      I can't wait for TV to catch up with my online experience.
      Too late, we already moved away from that with Tivo. And thank goodness for that.
      • by bziman (223162)
        Yeah, I love Tivo... unfortunately, my timing isn't perfect and I always seem to end up catching a few seconds of viagra or pro-wrestling ads that drive me batty -- and it's the same two or three annoying ads. If it were just *different* ads every time, I wouldn't be so annoyed.
  • I went to Amazon.com to find front-page ads for, you guessed it, Bluetooth adapters. ... At which point, you immediately died from the terrible harm that this caused you?

  • This is a definite step up from the "Punch the Dog Win $100!!!" ads.
    • by csplinter (734017)
      No not really. I won a stuffed monkey playing "Punch the Monkey" one time. I'm not joking!
  • Coincidence? - I had one hit and four misses. Looked for HDTVs and amazon matched, but they failed on cellphones, laptops, my textbook for this semester, the godfather dvd collection. Went to google each time, searched for item, went through a few links (4-5) and then went to amazon. Went to bestbuy for everything but the textbook. Cookies are accepted for session until I close firefox. JS and flash are blocked but I doubt that matters. Need a lot more data before can conclude anything one way or another.

    An
    • Couple things I noticed. Look under "my recommendations", and you'll find a more complete list of your browsing experience. I also did a further more obscure test. I went online browsing for Jihad videos, and lo and behold when I returned to my recos a bit later I was offered books and films on Islam.
  • I was googling St. Malachy's prophecy, an alleged 12th century document fortelling the rest of the Popes until the end of time. Went to Amazon a few minutes later, and a book on the subject was on the front page. I think that's a bit more unusual than the consumer electronics tests that people are trying out here.
  • Very misleading (Score:2, Interesting)

    by bill0755 (692856)
    Your claim definitely scores high for tapping into paranoia of cookies. Unfortunately, the only way Amazon knows you are looking for bluetooth adapters is if you visit their site first. This may have happened by way of a search result. Is this supposed to be surprising?

    Nice try though. Cookie paranoia is a bit worn out for me.

    • If Amazon is high up on the results list and Firefox is doing prefetching on the top few links, might that be how the Amazon cookie is getting set?
  • Welcome to the internet.

    Amazon uses ATDMT.com to serve ads. The sites you were searching for Bluetooth gear on were also using ATDMT.com to serve ads. It's not Amazon that knew you were looking for Bluetooth gear, it's ATDMT.com.

    That's why they're called "Tracking Cookies."

    • It's still creepy. I also searched for more obscure items at other sites, not "ATDMT.com" members, I searched for stuff like Jihad videos, and when I returned to amazon I got recos for books and films on Islam....
      • Learn how to set up a hosts file. Be sure ATDMT.com is in the file. When the banners try to load and set a cookie, the banner ad server will not be found and can not set a tracking cookie. The doubleclick URL's should be in the hosts file as well as other banner ad hosts.

  • Surf tracking and targeted ads are a way of life. There is no privacy online. Get used to it.
    • by causality (777677)

      Surf tracking and targeted ads are a way of life. There is no privacy online. Get used to it.

      Did it ever occur to you that this "lie down and take it" attitude is mostly responsible for the current situation? For every measure there are countermeasures. Adblock and its companion Filterset Updater are two (of many) which happen to be very effective, especially when combined with restrictions on cookies. And remember that at the end of the day, it is we who buy things from companies which employ these

  • by a_greer2005 (863926) on Monday September 04, 2006 @04:07PM (#16039754)
    I can clearly see the bad implecations here, but as a responsable user, this has helped me over the past few months: I look for an item on Target, walmart, froogle, whatever, then go to amazon and it is right there, no searching needed. This is not good privacy wise, but pretty conveniant for those of us who delete cookies at responsable intervals (read weekly or more).
  • 1) The retailer is using Amazon software/ The retailer is part of Amazon
    2) Amazon is sniffing the search URL you came from
    3) Amazon set a cookie

    Cookies can only be read by the site that set them. Maybe you are clicking on Amazon ads on the retailer site.
  • Iirc Google made headlines a while back about targeting users with ads based on their activity. Isn't this the same thing?
  • It's called Data Mining. Most universities with a statistics/OR/IE/FE department teach data mining. Amazon had LOTS of affiliates, or companies they work with to collect data. (review sites, other sites that sell items, etc). You probably visited one those. -DB
  • I went to a site a while back and saw a little graphic saying "Hello Doug. Guess how we know your name."

    It was a link to amazon.com using my registered name there. Harmless enough, but still a potential security leak.

  • I noticed twice in the last week some strange ad behavior on Amazon.

    The first time, I'd been looking at DVD players via search on Google (FireFox on OSX, not logged in), then later that day when I went to Amazon (not logged in) the front page of Amazon showed me DVD players. I thought perhaps there was some unhealthy cookie sharing going on.

    Then later in the week I'd been at Amazon (not logged in) looking at books on a topic I didn't want in my recent history or interested-in lists. I left Amazon, used FF t
  • What you're probably seeing is Amazon's new "Omakase" [askdavetaylor.com] ads. They've been beta testing them for a little while. Apparently they take into account the user's Amazon search history (have you searched for widgets on Amazon or affilates?), the site's referral sales history (have ads on the site resulted in widget sales before?) and the site's content (is the site about widgets?). I've been using them on my blog -- not sure if they are more or less effective than regular ads, but I do like that their appearance is
  • This is as old as cookies itself. Nothing new under the sun, no story.

    -espen

MSDOS is not dead, it just smells that way. -- Henry Spencer

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