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Retargeting is a Safe Way to Use User Data

With the daily increase in social media users, the amount of information publically available and the willingness of Internet users to put data out on the web, privacy is more of a concern than ever. In fact, online users have begun to wonder what information websites have access to and how that information is used. The level of doubt and mistrust has amplified, especially in recent months.

There is a solution, however. Retargeting is a safe way to use user data to your advantage without invading the privacy of your customers and potential customers.

The Concern

From international crises pertaining to security breaches to home-grown spying concerns, nothing is immune to scrutiny, not even social media. In fact, it has recently been made public that Facebook, the largest social network in the world with over one billion users, is being sued for allegedly violating the US Electronic Communications Privacy Act and California privacy and unfair competition trade laws.

Matthew Campbell v. Facebook Inc. accuses the company of creating expectations of privacy for users of private messaging systems while systematically intercepting and mining those communications for URLs without the knowledge or consent of users. The collected data is then shared with third parties for ad-targeting purposes. To put it simply: private messages may not be as private as the system has led users to believe.

Even other sites, like Google are not as “safe” as some users may think. Made effective November 11 of 2013, users who post reviews on Google, YouTube, or Zagat could see their information, reviews, and even photos in ads across any one of the company’s 2 million advertising network sites. Called “shared endorsements,” user information meant for an explicit purpose may be used by the company for its own good. While Google users can opt out of the process, it’s important to note that Facebook utilizes a similar practice, “sponsored stories,” which use customer information as an endorsement for itself, not allowing for the same privacy features as Google. (Although sponsored stories are on their way out, it seems.)

The Response

Whether you’re a continuing education provider, or a brand looking to increase web traffic, the perceived privacy concerns related with the large networks – that provide easy access to your target demographic – may be disconcerting. It doesn’t mean that reaching individuals on these and other networks, by collecting information that relates to their shopping preferences, has to raise eyebrows. In fact, it can be done safely and effectively, without crossing boundaries; the answer lies in retargeting.

Why Retargeting is Different

Non-Personally Identifiable Information

Retargeting relies on cookies. When a shopper visits a specific website, a cookie is left on their computer. From there, when that same shopper visits a social network associated with that cookie, it is activated, displaying the desired ad of the original company.

Cookies – small text files that store anonymous data about online behaviors – work with non-personally identifiable information relating to recently viewed products, browser types, plug-in details, local time zones, language preferences, device type and screen size. This information is helpful in reaching a specific demographic with a specific piece of information. Notice what’s missing? Names, e-mail addresses, contact information, photos, and other information that is personal and confidential.


Websites and brands that participate in retargeting have control over how information is displayed to visitors. With viewing caps – controlling how many times a particular ad is displayed to a specific website visitor – and time limits, advertisers can control how intrusive their ads seem to site visitors. Instead of coming across as invasive and questionable, they can be seen as natural and helpful, with customer needs in mind.


The most remarkable aspect of retargeting lies in its effectiveness without breaching or abusing the private information of customers.

Companies who retarget have a 147% higher conversion rate average than those who do not in certain industries and have engagement rates 2.5 to 3 times higher than companies who use other campaign forms. Furthermore, studies show that 72% of online shoppers abandon shopping carts with items inside prior to completing a purchase. Left alone, 8% return to complete the transaction; with retargeting, the number increases to 26%.

The Conclusion

To make it simple: privacy concerns exist online with good reason. Many companies take advantage of users and private information on a regular basis, a fact reflected in recent news stories and global events. But with retargeting, clients still get one of the most cost-effective and efficient methods of reaching specific customers, based on online activities, without the stigma of questionable information mining. Retargeting is a safe way to use visitor information without violating any laws or perceived privacy lines.

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