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Targeted Ads Are Ruining My Christmas

Thanks a lot, robots.

Unwrapped presents under a Christmas tree Photo: Shannon Fagan/Getty Images

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My parents have always gone out of their way to keep our Christmas presents a surprise ‘til the morning of. They’d stash away the loot they’d bought for my brother and me, then sneak it into their room to wrap on Christmas Eve after we’d gone to bed. Sometimes they’d even enlist family members to act as FedEx surrogates so we wouldn’t see the packages arriving at our house.

This drove me nuts when I was younger. The trees at my friends’s houses looked so much more glamorous and festive, what with their piles of shiny, neatly wrapped presents that grew and grew until December 25th. Ours was barren in comparison — all the better for vacuuming up fallen pine needles, I guess.

So one year, my bro and I begged our parents to start putting out the presents earlier on so we could admire them in the weeks leading up to the big day. They obliged us — but it wasn’t long before we wee brats began picking up each present and shaking it around, trying to guess which one might be a Furby and torturing ourselves in the process. Little had I realized that my parents had actually been onto something. We never put our presents out early again.

Fast-forward to present day. I’m back living under the same roof as my parents (temporarily, I swear!), and the threat of spoiled surprises feels more real than ever. Because even though I may have a little more self-restraint when it comes to peeking at my prezzies, now there are outside forces trying to spoil that good ol’ Christmas Morning Magic.

I’m talking about targeted advertising. I repeat: Targeted advertising is out to ruin Christmas.

Basically, there are these little internet robots that track every single thing you do and look at online — especially when you’re shopping. Then, when you least expect it, that stuff you were looking at starts haunting you in the form of advertisements on entirely unrelated websites. These stalker ads don’t care if you clicked on that ugly pair of boots on ModCloth accidentally or if you don’t actually have the cash right now for another Catbird yellow gold memory ring. And, if you happen to share a computer, they definitely don’t care about who’s been looking at what.

My personal beef with targeted ads started a few weeks ago. Scrambling to come up with gifts to buy for my parents, I found myself perusing Hillflint, a site that sells vintage-inspired college sweaters. My mother and father are both extremely proud of their respective alma maters, so it seemed like a fool-proof idea. That is, until Mum used my laptop to check her Facebook and proceeded to tell me about “these neat UVM sweaters” she kept seeing on the sides of her feed. And wait — there were University of Michigan versions, too! Wouldn’t that be a great idea for Dad?! (Not anymore!)

A few days later, I mentioned something to my parents about wanting a new bathrobe to replace my ratty, Gorilla Glue-spattered oldie. It wasn’t long before I started noticing ads for The Company Store popping up all over my usual online stomping grounds, highlighting — you guessed it — WOMEN’S BATHROBES. I know.

Then there are the little Madewell ads that refuse to vacate the left-hand side of my go-to news site, featuring the light pink flannel shirt and mock neck sweater I pointed out to my mother when we went shopping a few weeks ago. “Forget something?” the click-through asks. No, Madewell, I didn’t — and apparently neither did my mother when she eyed the tops on your site without realizing that they’d soon be infiltrating the monitor we both so frequently utilize. Sad!

I’m sure there are ways to thwart targeted advertisements’s apparent plight against Christmas. Yes, I could use my own prone-to-freezing 2012 Macbook Pro instead of my parents’s almost offensively efficient Air. I could also act like a proper millennial and purchase things off my phone, or summon my inner Luddite and order through one of the roughly 1,000+ catalogs delivered to my parents’s house daily.

But as far as this Christmas is concerned, I think it’s safe to say that targeted advertising has already done its dirty, grinchy deed. No surprises are sacred. And when I unwrap that adorable fuzzy pink button-down on the 25th, I only hope my OMG face is convincing enough to carry me through the rest of the morning without any questioning. Taylor Swift, give me strength!

Until then, I’ll be heading to the mall and stuffing the rest of my yet-to-be-wrapped purchases under my bed the old-fashioned way — or at the very least, going incognito and clearing out my cache every 10 minutes.