Cosmic, Inexplicable Cross-Platform Spouse Retargeting on Facebook

Facebook ad targeting

This week I wrote about the Zillow acquisition of Trulia. I haven’t spent much time on either site for quite awhile. So last night I decided to go back and more thoroughly explore Trulia for the first time in a couple of years.

I performed a number of housing searches on my PC and looked at the features on the site. Subsequently, as you might imagine, I saw ads for Trulia on other sites on the PC. But what’s kind of amazing (or spooky) is what happened to my wife within literally minutes of me being on Trulia.

My wife was sitting across the room, absorbed in her Android Facebook app. (She’s quite an avid Facebook user — much more so than I am.) She knew I was on Trulia and so she told me that she was seeing ads for Trulia in her feed. What?

Either this was a cosmic coincidence — she wasn’t on Trulia at any point herself — or this was some kind of inexplicable cross-platform spouse retargeting.

Facebook knows that we’re married. I assume that she, by virtue of being my identified spouse, was receiving the same kinds of ads I would have seen on Facebook. I’ve never heard or seen anything like this. I’ve never heard of a retargeting capability that involves spouses or other closely associated persons: lovers, immediate relatives, etc.

Yet if there wasn’t some sort of spouse retargeting, how/why was she seeing these ads? What do you think this is? Where’s Dennis Yu?

Update: Somebody on Twitter just suggested to me that this was probably IP-retargeting. Both my wife and I were on our WiFi network. I’m sure that’s the explanation. Mystery solved.

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5 Responses to “Cosmic, Inexplicable Cross-Platform Spouse Retargeting on Facebook”

  1. Victor Wong says at

    Most likely what is happening is a cross-device specialist in retargeting is using statistical inference to match devices. It’s become a common technique pioneered by Drawbridge. Basically, they look at web traffic patterns of devices and try to correlate activities of a user so they can guess if it’s likely the same user or not they are seeing on difference devices.

    Alternatively, they’ve managed to sync cookies across devices and sites. This can happen if she logged into a service like Facebook at some point on the desktop and then her phone. It can also happen in a more complicated manner where she logged into some service on the desktop which ties to some mobile cookie through other cookies she may have on those devices.

    Basically because you used a desktop that you presumably share with your wife, she may have her android and that desktop as linked as the same user in some of these databases. So by targeting the desktop user who visited teulia, they may have reached her instead. Cookies, identifiers, and targeting technologies aren’t smart enough to nececessarily personally identify users as you can see but they can get pretty close a lot of the times.

  2. Sol Orwell says at

    Just some simple retargeting. Google has been doing it for years, FB in the past year or so (Facebook Exchange).

  3. Greg Sterling says at

    But it was retargeting to another person — my wife that was so strange. However I didn’t initially think they would be using our shared IP address. That’s what it was.

  4. Greg Sterling says at

    Hope all is well Victor. It’s IP-based retargeting.

  5. Kendra says at

    Interesting post, and thanks for the update on Occam’s razor for this particular case. I do wonder about how my data trail intersects with my relationships though.

    Once I updated status to “Engaged” on Facebook, it was all bridal ads, all the time. I finally made the decision to change my gender to “Male” and now it’s mostly retargeting and ads related to my line of work or pages I’ve liked.

    In other words, there is a serious blue ocean out there for gay wedding social ads, folks. Get on that.

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