Home Depot’s Home Invasion

By Darren Smith, Weekend Contributor

150px-thehomedepotsvgIt only took a few minutes for Home Depot to tell the world I visited its website. Now, my home computer reminds me of the mistake I made in providing Home Depot the chance to earn my business. I went to look at one of their products and got spammed as a result. It is truly a sign of disrespect Home Depot shows its customers for walking into its digital doors. Well, I can now add Home Depot to my list of “Fired Corporations Replaced By Small Businesses.”

It seems that window shopping is best left to actual windows instead of Microsoft Windows.


My beef with Home Depot started when I needed to buy a Water Bath Canner, a large 21 quart pot used to boil mason jars for food preservation. I thought I had one around the house but couldn’t find it. A few days ago I bought about 150 pounds of tomatoes, pears, and apples from the Mennonite grocery store nearby to can for the winter. I didn’t see a water canner there so I thought I would look at Home Depot’s website–they have a store nearby–and enquire if they had one. I used their search option with the words “canning pots” and a page popped up with several pressure canners. I clicked on one, read what it had to offer, and decided to pass.

I needed to move onto other things and about two or three minutes later I decided to catch up on today’s news. I opened the website for a major news source and immediately I was handed the first “Thank you” for considering Home Depot; a banner ad wanting to sell me pressure cookers from Home Depot. Then came a second and a third in a row from other major websites. All I could do was roll my eyes in dismay. I probably should have known better than to visit without an anonymous web-client, but I didn’t suspect Home Depot would sink low enough to resort to web spamming–much less selling/providing my information to third parties–I thought it would be o.k.

I really do not think Yahoo News and CNN need to know that I visited Home Depot to buy a pot. It makes me wonder what other information Home Depot is willing to hand out so readily. Luckily for me I did not visit the FBI’s website after Home Depot’s showing I am interested in Pressure Cookers.

Previously, I wrote how I fired my corporate pharmacy and returned to the Mom & Pop pharmacy in town. I should have taken my own advice for Home Depot.

Perhaps the Mennonites down the road will have one for sale. It’s now Sunday so I will probably have to wait an extra day. Oh well, at least I know with certainty I won’t see an ad for canning pots in the program card for the United Methodist Church when I attend service next Sunday.

Yeah, I am sure that Home Depot can articulate that buried two pages below within the fine print of their “privacy statement warning” they can claim that I consented to this by visiting their site. Or, that they did not violate the terms of this so called agreement.

Well, here is my privacy statement: Goodbye.

By Darren Smith

The views expressed in this posting are the author’s alone and not those of the blog, the host, or other weekend bloggers. As an open forum, weekend bloggers post independently without pre-approval or review. Content and any displays or art are solely their decision and responsibility.

58 thoughts on “Home Depot’s Home Invasion”

  1. Some of the biggies you can opt-out of advertising from on the link above include: Amazon, eBay, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Experian, Quantcast, and Yahoo. Not all ad networks subscribe to this program, but as you can see many of the most prominent ones do.

  2. First, the word “adds” is a verb, meaning to include one thing with another, or it is a math operation. The word “ads” is a noun, which is short for “advertising” in the plural form. You will not see “adds” promoting products for sale on the Internet.

    I am a member of the IAB, the Interactive Advertising Bureau, an organization for advertisers and online publishers that focuses on advertising industry policies. The term “online behavioral advertising” is the ad industry term for what this article is all about. You can find their Self-Regulatory Program for Online Behavioral Advertising, which is used widely by advertisers and advertising networks as guidelines for how they implement this type of advertising, here: http://www.iab.net/public_policy/self-reg

  3. “It’s to bad you have no actual idea how Google ads work.”

    It’s too bad you have no idea when to use the word “too” versus the word “to.”

  4. BFM, I have an air horn I use on unwanted calls. It is a great behavior modification program, better than those lame no call lists.

    1. @Nick: Thanks Nick, what an ingenious suggestion for traditional technology.

      Memo to self: remember to hold phone well away from ear the next time we call Nick.

  5. Oops, Need an editor:

    “I also find it ingenuous for some to pretend that Darren’s complaint is unreasonable ”

    should be

    “I also find it disingenuous for some to pretend that Darren’s complaint is unreasonable”

  6. Never had any trouble with the Home Depot site. You might want to check your computer and see if you have some spy ware or something. Check to see if your browser is using a proxy as well. I don’t think the problem is Home Depot.

    1. From the Home Depot web site:

      “We may collect any of the information or content that you provide through our websites, mobile applications, or online forums. If you use our websites, we collect your IP (Internet Protocol) address and other related information such as the type of browser and operating system you are using. We might also track the pages you visit, look at what website you came from, or what website you visit when you leave us. We collect this information using the tracking tools described in the Our Tracking Techniques section at the bottom of this page. To control those tools, please read the Your Privacy Preferences and Our Tracking Techniques sections.”

      The fact that different users are treated differently in the sense that they are presented with different adds or no adds at all is a normal result of the system and to be expected.

      Clearly Home Depot, as well as many corporations, participates in a system that allows users to be given different treatment depending on their past internet use.

      Whether that system is technically ‘tracking’ is completely irrelevant to the objections raised by many.

  7. “DO NOT CALL” list.

    Kitchen phones ring off the hook night and day.

    Elected officials have done NOTHING to stop unwanted phone solicitations, promotions, etc.

    Elected officials represent PROFIT no matter its source, method, form or location.

    Elected officials do not represent their voters.

    From the ineligible “Imposter” in the White House and Extreme Court to the local mayor, elected officials represent profit, not people.

    The Founders acknowledged and protected the PRIVACY of Americans over any facet of government or governance.

    Every hour our privacy is invaded by lazy, parasitic scammers and shysters in the mail, over the Internet

    and ON THE PHONE.

    What the hell are elected officials thinking?


    Impose capital punishment on the “telemarketers.”

    1. “Impose capital punishment on the “telemarketers.”

      I gave up on the do not call list. We now use a VoiP service. That service allows us to easily set up our own list to block calls from phone numbers. The system is not perfect. The call spammers also use VoiP and can easily change the phone number presented in CallerID. But our experience is that by the time we block a couple of numbers from a spammer they stop calling.

      In addition the financial case for VoiP is compelling. We used to pay $50 a month for unlimited calls over the country. But we make few calls. We purchased a VoiP adapter for $40. Our VoiP service costs $2.50 a month for 500 minutes – more than enough for our home phone.

      We save over $500 per year on the cost of phone service.

      Setting up the VoiP adapter is about as complicated as setting up a WiFi router – which is not very. The VoiP providers and the VoiP adapter manufacturers have lots of information/tutorials for setting up the adapters to work with the service.

      One caution. Emergency 911 service works differently for VoiP phones, so make sure you have followed your VoiP service instructions to route your 911 calls to the call center for your geographical area and report your address. That may be as simple is entering your street address for the 911 service.

      Of course VoiP service does not work if your internet service fails – as when the electricity is cut off in your area. That is one reason we would have preferred the old style ‘copper wire’ telephone system with its independent power supply. But that system is being phased out and is not available in many areas.

      In more than a year of operation we have found VoiP calls to be as clear and reliable as what we had before. And the price is right.

  8. @ExPatNJ

    If he can prove Home Depot transmitted information about his visit to a third party, then yes, maybe he may have a case. But they didn’t. There’s no reason to believe they did. It’s extraordinarily improbable that happened. It’s simply not how internet advertising works.

    Mr. Smith’s computer requested ads from a third party, and notified that third party what webpage he was on. Later, it requested ads again from the same third party, who recognized him and served what it felt were relevant ads. Home Depot would have no way of knowing if Mr. Smith ever visited another site, nor did it share any information.

    Why did his computer request ads? I can’t tell without more information. Maybe Home Depot accepting money to include in-line ads, maybe he has adware installed. In any case, Home Depot did not share his personal information with CNN; CNN has no way of knowing he visited Home Depot.

    As you said yourself, the facts as alleged by Mr. Smith indicate Home Depot broke the law. Since Home Depot did not break the law, why dismiss the thought of libel so quickly without an analysis?

  9. To ‘James’ et. al.:

    An EUA/L (End User Agreement/License) notice for any website, ‘app’, or software is INVALID AND UNENFORCEABLE.

    1. There is no written contract;
    2. There is no witness to any oral or implied contract;
    3. Informed consent on part of the end-user cannot be proven.

    As the attorneys-at-law, attorneys-in-fact, and armchair-attorneys who frequent this site will attest:
    “If you didn’t get it in writing, it never happened”.

    If Mr. Smith can prove a link between his visiting the Home Depot website, and Home Depot transmitting the fact of, or details about, his visit to a 3rd party without his consent, he may very well indeed have a legal case against Home Depot.

    And, Home depot has no claims of libel against Mr. Smith or this article/website.

  10. Darren isn’t off base here.
    Home Depot certainly knows how this works and that their prospective customers will get spammed, even if they did not originate the method or control it themselves.

    They approve of it, and pay for the service.
    Google ads is merely the method, and indeed Darren’s info was in fact shared instantly because of his interaction with Home Depot.
    How is he wrong here?
    Is Home Depot supposed to be some kind of innocent victim in all this?

    1. “Home Depot certainly knows how this works and that their prospective customers will get spammed, even if they did not originate the method or control it themselves.”

      I think I have to agree 100% here.

      To my mind it makes absolutely no difference whether Home Depot is the one that literally tracks the user and presents the add in the browser, or whether Home Depot only participates in a system that places machine readable data on the users pc and it is some other party that reads the data and causes adds to be placed in the user’s browser.

      What ever the technical details we know that Home Depot cooperates in a system that causes adds based on the users past activity to be presented to the browser.

      Not only that, some companies used methods that “track” the user from device to device – regardless of whether they use a desktop, phone or other internet device. And some companies use methods that are difficult or impossible to disable – placing machine readable data in non-standard places, or machine readable data the reproduces itself after being deleted. Adobe’s flash cookies (Local Shared Objects) and Verizon’s undetectable and undeleteable super cookies are particularly troubling examples.

      I also find it ingenuous for some to pretend that Darren’s complaint is unreasonable because his terminology may not be technology accurate. Darren’s terms and technical details matter not at all. The complaint has to do with the results of the technique.

      The simple fact is that many users do not like having to participate in a system that allows unknown parties to develop a record of their past activity and use that data for commercial and unknown purposes.

      Corporations and advertisers would do well to heed the concerns expressed by many users.

      As for those who make the fatuous observation that the user does not have to participate, we point out that many cases refusal to participate means the user cannot access the web site. Further, as we have pointed out some companies take steps to conceal how they place machine readable data on the user’s pc and other companies make it impossible to opt out.

  11. If people have info they would like to share with Daren, as to how these ads
    work, that is great, more information is always welcome …. There is however, no need to be rude about it. Calling his
    post asinine etc.. etc.. etc.. is not really cool.
    Daren is a wonderful person, and a LONG time writer on this blog, I hate to see
    people treating him in such a disrespectful manner.

  12. Thanks to all who mentioned good add-ons; will try them. My browsing got immediately quieter and easier when I started using Comodo IceDragon, by the way. It’s set to let Comodo’s server filter out some stuff (no time to look up the particulars again now). Easy to install and try out. I still have Chrome and IE, but as pointed out above, some news sites are almost impossible to access through their advertising’s virtual hedges, so for those I use IceDragon. And! IceDragon does not go crazy with memory usage.

  13. I keep IE , Goolge and firefox browser security settings turned up high. Also use free CCleaner to delete history tracking. Then use 2 other programs to double delete internet history.

  14. I don’t know what’s more laughable here, the ignorance of how advertising on the Internet works (see shtaub’s and James’s comments) or the tinfoil hat paranoia expressed in the post. I’m a privacy nut, but I’m not that nutty that I’d shoot myself in the foot to avoid tracking. Try the Disconnect (stops tracking by third-party websites) and Self-Destructing Cookies (nukes a sites cookies when the tab is closed) add-ons.

  15. @BigFatMike – Because Darren said he will not shop at Home Depot after they tracked him on the Internet…. except they didn’t. Boycotting a company for something you thought they did but didn’t do is stupid. Encouraging others to boycott them is possibly a tort. Darren should have researched how ad networks work and what happened before spreading false information on a popular blog.

  16. @ Joseph Jones

    You may be interested in this discussion on Reddit that talks about this very thing. We are being spied upon by our phones and computers. It isn’t so scary about the computers and the internet. I expect this. But to think that you can be spied on when you are just speaking or that the camera and audio on your devices can also be secretly turned on is really scary.


    This is why I:
    1. Keep my cell phone turned off most of the time No one calls me and I don’t call anyone anyway. Just buy 100 minutes at a time)
    2. Disconnect the add on camera from my computer until I want to Skype my grandchildren
    3. Put electrical tape over the camera on the laptop
    3. Keep the computers all powered off unless I am using them

    If it gets any worse, I’m going to suspect my Samsung dishwasher of spying on me too. :-0

  17. You should be able to opt out of being tracked. I use the Firefox stuff including adblock. Life is different under surveillance–there’s always that thought in your mind of Big Brother, whether corporate or other. Really, no one needs to know what sites you go to unless you’re being investigated for criminal behavior. Doing things to make money, rather than for some nefarious purpose, doesn’t make the behavior ok. So as long as it’s for money, that’s ok? Pretty low standard, see “Breaking Bad.”

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