Targeted ads give us an interesting mix of self-awareness, flattery and paranoia. On one hand, by following you on the web and pitching you with products that you might actually buy, when these ads work, you feel a reassuring self-affirmation of your online persona with what sort of demographic the internet decides to lump you in. Sometimes like a long-lost best friend you feel - "ah, these ads know me so well."
On the flipside, however, you get this stalky/creepy feeling that someone or something is always watching you. Your browsing and search habits get collected, cataloged, analyzed and you become a statistic - an alphanumeric code to be processed by an algorithm. The "personal" in personalized ads is actually quite an impersonal process - your details are just data bits and pieces that get crunched to make marketing more efficient.
Fortunately, if all this stalking and creeping and tracking and snooping gets a little bit too much for you, there are quite a few tips, tools and tricks you can employ to minimize its extent.
First order of business, for a clean slate, clear all your browsing data, history, cache and cookies from your web browsers then disable or limit tracking on your gadget or even services like Facebook. Click here for detailed instructions on how to do this.
Next, make sure you delete all third-party advertising cookies too. Click here for more tips on how to clear out these types of cookies.
Now, test your browser with an online security and privacy checker like Panopticlick. Developed by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, this site collects information about the browser you're using and will tell you your risk level. For more privacy protection, consider using free anonymizing software like Tor.
Anti-tracking browser extensions you can try
Another convenient option to stop and monitor tracking is installing browser extensions.
RedMorph is a Chrome-only extension that can block ad and social media trackers plus first and third-party cookies. It even provides parental control features like word filters for inappropriate language. Their basic primary control is free but for more advanced features like encrypted proxy and VPN, you will have to join their paid memberships.
Privacy Badger is another tracker blocker you can try and it's available for both Chrome and Firefox browsers. It claims to detect 184 tracking domains with tracking activity adjustable with filter sliders within its settings. Tracking domains could either be allowed (slider is green), domain cookies blocked (yellow) or domain totally blocked (red).
Ghostery is an ad tracking blocker that supports all major browsers - Opera, Firefox, Chrome, Safari and Internet Explorer. Once installed, this blocker does not block trackers by default and you have to manually go to its settings and check trackers you wish to block. Other than that, it's a pretty straightforward blocker that can stop all sorts of categorized trackers such as advertising, analytics and social media tracking.
Last but certainly not the least is Disconnect. This blocker will likewise identify advertising, analytics, social media and content tracking requests. According to the company, they try and take the middle ground between privacy protection and respect for analytics tracking that is necessary for websites to survive. If done tastefully, this is certainly a good approach.
Whether we like it or not, advertisements, like the ones you will find on this very page, still keep the lights on for most websites.