written by
Renjit Philip

Privacy vs. creepy Ads

Privacy Web Data protection 1 min read , August 9, 2020
Privacy on the web
Image from Burst on Pexels

Now, anyone who knows me, knows that I am a pro-privacy geek. I was not always like this. It started with a simple Google search for a flight ticket. After that, I realized that there were travel ads following me on Facebook and Instagram. It was spooky- as if Facebook and Instagram knew what my travel plans were. That was 6-7 years back. I am slightly more educated about what happens.

Websites like these deposit cookies and pixels, take a fingerprint of your device, and collate information from aggregators to form a complete picture of your browsing behavior. Add that to demographics that you willingly give to social media platforms. They can build enough data to send you targeted ads. The holy grail is when you combine payment information with browsing information. Then you get the propensity to spend with the ability to pay with SKU level purchasing behavior. MasterCard, Visa, and Credit Karma all have data aggregation services that sell non-personalized data to other companies. Even though the data is non-personalized, it is possible to triangulate and figure out who the person is and where they live!

As an entrepreneur, I have used these very same targeted ads to generate leads and sales- I cannot live with these features. Now there is a line between relevant ads and creepy ads. When does it get taken too far?

  • Insurance price comparison websites & airlines figure out your ability to pay and offer you higher prices if you are say observed to living in an affluent zip code
  • e-commerce websites experiment with price elasticity (charging higher rates from people who may not research as much)
  • Targeted credit card campaigns with predatory interest rates

Remember that when the product is "free," then YOU are the product! Interested in tools to retain your privacy?

What do I do: Use Firefox with advanced privacy protection turned on. Or use the Brave browser ( this is a bit strict, so some websites do not work as expected). I switched to Duckduckgo as my search engine. If you are even more paranoid, you could use a VPN while on the web- that will impact your speed and convenience. Do you have other tools that you recommend?

Privacy Web