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Online Retailers: Stop ruining my kids' Christmas!

Posted December 15, 2014 box with toys

My younger daughter and I were innocently watching an online video previewing Disney on Ice presents Frozen the other day when, low and behold, to her wondering eyes appeared an advertisement with a picture of the exact same Frozen-themed art set that is a top request on her Christmas list.

Look, Mommy!" she said. "That's the art set I asked Santa for! And there's more!"

Yes, indeed. There was more. Stickers. Coloring books. Activity books. A manicure set. She saw them all as the ad scrolled through what seemed to be every single item out there that is at all related to a set of colored pencils and markers with Elsa's face all over them. I quickly shut the laptop so she couldn't see any more.

"Why was that on your computer, Mommy?" my five-year-old wondered.

What could I say? That I was actually Santa, getting all her gifts or doling them out to grandparents who are searching for ideas? I'd purchased the art set online a week before after I couldn't find it at a local retailer. We'd given it to her friend for her birthday earlier in the year. She's wanted one ever since.

I successfully steered the discussion to another important topic (candy), but she didn't forget. She mentioned it to her sister that afternoon.

These days, my laptop is a Christmas wish time bomb. I pull up one website and there are the athletic socks or boots or card games that my nine-year-old wants. I pull up another and you'll see the results of my search for a pop-up soccer goal and football for my five-year-old, all links that I sent on to a grandparent, who will purchase them.

There is an off switch and I have taken precautions. Online shoppers can clear their cache immediately after they have finished making a purchase. Then, the cookies that pull in those ads that pop up will be wiped from their browser. In other words, advertisers won't be able to target you by displaying pictures of items that you've just searched for or purchased.

Of course, that doesn't work when you're casually browsing online while your kids are sitting across from you, watching some kind of holiday special on TV and, during the commercials, one pops her head over to see what you're up to. Maybe you'd already quickly switched to another site to hide your activities, but, as you surfed around with her watching, a possible gift popped up.

Yes. That can happen.

I get it. This is how folks make money by tracking our movements online and enticing us with advertisements for things we've searched for and apparently are interested in.

And this also falls squarely in the category of "first world problems." Certainly, I could perhaps resolve much of this by not searching for these items online or by just telling my kids that I'm Santa. But that's tricky when grandparents are out of town and ask for ideas; my kids' top wishes can't be found locally; and I love that my kids love Santa.

Regardless, it sure would be nice to have some kind of automatic off switch during the gift-giving season.

Until then, I'll hopefully look for advertisements of European vacations or resorts in Hawaii. Then I'll know my husband is thinking about making all of my Christmas wishes come true.

Sarah is the mom of two and Go Ask Mom's editor.


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  • snowl Dec 16, 2014

    View quoted thread

    A smart shopper had her purchase of an electric razor scooter shipped to her WORK address.
    And yes, this box came in it's original box, and so large no one could miss it. This is much safer than having it left on your doorstep.

  • Lisa Jeffries Dec 16, 2014
    user avatar

    Chrome Incognito window for the win! :-)

  • e196c542 Dec 16, 2014

    In Firefox, "Control-Shift-P" opens a private browser session, nothing you do in that window gets stored. Internet Exploder uses the same key combo to open an "InPrivate" session. "Chrome uses "Control-Shift-N" to open an 'Incognito" window.

    This is good or bad depending on who is using it and how it gets used. Mom and Dad can search for gifts and not leave cookie crumbs, or web history. Savvy kids can use it to look at things they know they should not be looking for - or at - and Parents will not find out. Wandering spouses can use it to maintain secrecy as well.

    Welcome to the great new world of technology, where we create as many problems as we solve.

  • 50s Child Dec 16, 2014

    View quoted thread

    You're lucky it was still on the porch in its HP box when you got home.

  • fuzzmom Dec 16, 2014

    Of course despite privacy settings, the retailer can simply mail your package to you in its original packaging, for all to see. Yes, I ordered an HP printer that was left on my front porch in its HP box, and yes, it was a gift. :-(

  • Andy Hairston Dec 16, 2014
    user avatar

    Some browsers offer a 'privacy mode' that may help with this. In Firefox, it's File/New Private Window. Running in private mode while shopping for presents *might* solve this problem, but YMMV.

  • snowl Dec 15, 2014

    I think you can resolve this by clicking on the little triangle (ad choices) that appears in each of those ads where you have done a search. Good luck. You can also use a different browser, one that your kids don't use or see.