In this age of personalized ads and online user profiling, we are understandably concerned about the digital tracks we are leaving behind. 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.
Online behavioral advertising, which is also sometimes called "interest-based advertising," uses information gathered through your browser about your visits over time and across different websites. This helps predict your preferences and show you ads that are more likely to be of interest to you.
This is the reason why ads sometimes appear to follow you from site to site, even from device to device, and they seem to know what you've been searching for online.
Sometimes, all this stalking and creeping and tracking and snooping can feel a little bit too much. It's almost like a blatant invasion of privacy.
1.) Wipeout history, turn off cookies
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.
Advertisers record and store your online habits on your computer as a small file called a cookie. You can remove these yourself, but they'll just keep coming back.
Next, 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.
2.) Opt out of ads
With all the behind-the-scenes tracking going around, the number of companies that use algorithms to track your behavior and send you targeted ads is disturbing when you think about it.
Thankfully, there's a way for you to opt-out of interest based, or "behavioral," ads. Or, at least most of them.
The Digital Advertising Alliance has a consumer choice page that lets you see which of its participating partners is currently using customized ads on your computer.
When you first visit the website a scan will begin. When the scan is complete, you'll be shown a list of these partners.
From there, you can learn more about the practices these companies use for interest-based ads, and opt-out using "opt-out cookies" that are stored in your browser with your preferences.
It's important to note that doing this won't remove all of the ads that you see online. Advertisers just won't be able to serve you targeted ads.
3.) Go incognito
Every major web browser - Chrome, Edge, Firefox, Internet Explorer, Safari and Opera - has private, or incognito, browsing. Turning this feature on means your browser will ignore cookies - including ad-tracking cookies - and won't record your browsing history. It's almost like you weren't online.
When your browser is in private browsing mode, it will show a special icon. If you don't see the mask in Firefox, the spy in Chrome or the "InPrivate" in IE and Edge, then you aren't in incognito or private mode.
Private browsing will keep your browsing safe from casual snoopers. Someone who jumps on your computer won't see where you've been.
There you have it, if you're creeped out by all the background tracking that's going on whenever you go online, these are the ways you can minimize it.
However, it's also important to point out that online ads aren't necessarily a bad thing.
Yes, these ads can sometimes seem annoying, but they're also the reason most online content is free. Without them, media outlets and content creators would have to find a different source of revenue. Just a food for thought.