Ever had an online ad follow you tenaciously across all your gadgets? You know the drill. Maybe you looked up a pair of running shoes online and suddenly ads for that brand start popping up everywhere - on your desktop, laptop, smartphone or tablet.
It feels like a rather desperate salesman is tailing you and incessantly asking you to "Please buy this. You like this, right?" I once had an especially persistent iPad case ad follow me around for two weeks. It gets creepy and annoying, to say the least. It seems like there's always someone or something watching your every move on the web.
Most of the time, this is thanks to online behavioral advertising, which is also sometimes called "interest-based advertising." This uses information gathered through your browser about your visits over time and across different websites in order to help predict your preferences and show you ads that are more likely to be of interest to you.
Simply put, when you browse online, advertisers can track your behavior and browsing history and use special algorithms to serve you targeted ads.
Although, most browsers have a "Do Not Track" privacy setting, this doesn't guarantee that all advertisers, trackers and web servers will respect this request. Plus, sneaky "malvertising" outfits will like to follow you around with malicious cookies as well.
Thankfully, you have options and you're not completely defenseless. This free tool from the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) will help you along the way.
Privacy Badger is a browser add-on or extension for Chrome, Firefox and Opera that will monitor webpages for spying ads and trackers that can be recording your every move.
If it discovers that something on a page is tracking you, it will try and block it, keeping your web surfing safe and tracker-free.
Privacy Badger detects the third-party domain scripts, images, and ads embedded in the sites that you visit. If there's a tracker or cookie that seems to be following you around, Privacy Badger will stop your browser from loading items from that source. To the advertiser, it will look like you've disappeared.
The best part is that you don't have to do a thing; Privacy Badger will perform these tasks automatically.
To see what Privacy Badger is blocking, click on the icon that appears in your address bar in Chrome or in your toolbar in Firefox. Privacy Badger will display a list of cookies and tracking programs on the site.
When the slider button is green, it means that the program is harmless. Yellow means that the program is on a Whitelist, and red means that the program has been blocked completely.
However, if you want more security, you can also manage your privacy directly through the browser extension by adjusting the slider bars on each tracker. Alternatively, if you trust a website well enough, you can disable Privacy Badger for that site completely if you wish.
To download the program, navigate to the Privacy Badger download page and click on "Install Privacy Badger and Enable Do Not Track." The site automatically detects your browser and it will install the appropriate add-on or extension.
Depending on your browser, just click "OK," "Allow" or "Add" on the popup boxes that are asking for your permission to install the extension. A Privacy Badger icon will then be added on the top-left side of your browser menu bar. Click on this icon to control Privacy Badger's filter and whitelist settings.
Note: Not sure what browser you're using? Click here to find out, and make sure it's updated.
All set? You can continue on with your normal internet activities but keep an eye on the Privacy Badger icon. It will alert you if it detects any potential tracker on any webpage you're visiting. I bet you'll be surprised at what it finds.
Note: Privacy Badger does not block "first-party" tracking like Facebook or traffic analytics. This program is aimed at the malicious third-party sites that have no right to your information and blatantly disregard the Do Not Track browser policies.
Finally! Now there's a way to opt-out of behavioral ads
There are more online tools out there that can help you prevent behavioral ad tracking. Check out this tool from the Digital Advertising Alliance that lets you see and opt-out from customized ads from its partners.