Yahoo associating search keywords with ads, but not with user accounts

I have an account with Yahoo, mostly used for an email address. And it’s usually logged in, so technically they are capable of linking my Yahoo searches with my account and whatever personal details they have. The same thing everybody is always worried about Google doing, but for some reason a lot less verbosely so about Yahoo or the rest of the gang.

I’m going on a trip to the US soon, and will need to rent a car. In addition to checking some specific places, I decided to also run a general search through a few search engines, Yahoo included, to see if anything interesting comes up.

And since then, all the ads I saw on my Yahoo account, from the mail interface, deal with car rentals. OK, not all, but about 80%-90% of them. Before those searches, I think I didn’t get any car rental ads at all, or maybe very few of them.

Meaning, obviously, that their ad server collects details from the search engine, to provide more targeted advertising.

Except it doesn’t get stored centrally with the Yahoo account. When I logged into my Yahoo mailbox from a different computer, the ads remained the same regular bunch, without a car rental ad in sight. Going back to the original computer I searched from, the rental ads were back in force.

Erasing just the Yahoo cookies also removed the car rental ads from the first computer.

So they are keeping a somewhat limited track of what was last searched on the computer, but are not keeping (or not showing that they keep) a central repository.

Now all they need to do is to either increase the amount of different ads, or do better targeting of other ads, in order to prevent the connection from being too obvious. Seeing relevant ads directly on a search results page is fine, perfectly legitimate, and can be useful. Seeing it afterwards, constantly, in different pages of the same service offering the search engine, is unnerving. Even if it isn’t directly tied in to the specific user… yet.

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