Is this just a coincidence? You recently looked at cameras online, and now you’re seeing ads for cameras. You were browsing new outfits, and now your browser is showing ads for shirts and trousers.
Not long ago, “interest-based advertising” creeped out a lot of people who couldn’t understand why Facebook, for example, knew what they had just shopped for on Amazon. The truth is that personalized ads are the result of a very impersonal process.
Interest-based advertising crunches bits of data gathered from your browser to make marketing more efficient. Special algorithms analyze your visits over time and across different websites, making it possible to predict your preferences and show ads that are likely to interest you.
But sometimes, all this tracking can be overwhelming. While the process is basically automatic and unmanned, interest-based ads can feel like an invasion of privacy. That’s why many people look for ways to throw the trackers off their scent.
Here are three simple ways to do just that.
1. Wipe out history, turn off cookies
To start, you’ll want a clean slate. You should eliminate any trace of your past searches by clearing all the browsing data, history, cache and cookies from your web browsers.
Next, disable or limit tracking on your gadget, including on favorite services like Facebook. If you’re not sure how how to do this, click here for the steps to wipe out where you’ve been and what you’ve done. Next, make sure to delete third-party advertising cookies. Click here to learn how to remove them and prevent them from coming back.
When you’re finished, take a moment to test your browser with an online security and privacy checker. I like the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s tool that shows you the information about the browser you’re using and your risk level. Click here for the free download and more details.
2. Opt out of ads
You may notice only a handful of culprits, but many companies use algorithms to track your behavior and send you targeted ads.
Thankfully, there’s a way for you to opt out of interest-based, or “behavioral,” ads. The Digital Advertising Alliance lets you review its participating partners. When you first visit the DAA, the websites will scan your computer. Once the scan is complete, you’ll be shown a list of partners advertising directly to you.
From there, you can learn more about the practices these companies use for interest-based ads. You can opt out using “opt-out cookies” that are stored in your browser with your preferences.
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 your computer won’t record your browsing history. It’s almost like you were never online.
When your browser is in private browsing mode, it will show a special icon. In Firefox, it’s a mask; in Chrome, it’s a little spy; in Edge, it’s “InPrivate.” These all indicate that you’re in incognito or private mode.
Private browsing will keep your computer safe from casual snoopers. Someone who jumps on your computer won’t see where you’ve been.
Keep in mind that online ads aren’t necessarily a bad thing. Yes, they can annoy us, 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. For most of us, seeing a few presumptuous ads is a tiny price to pay.
What questions do you have? Call my national radio show and click here to find it on your local radio station. You can listen to the Kim Komando Show on your phone, tablet or computer. From buying advice to digital life issues, click here for my free podcasts.
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Learn about all the latest technology on the Kim Komando Show, the nation’s largest weekend radio talk show. Kim takes calls and dispenses advice on today’s digital lifestyle, from smartphones and tablets to online privacy and data hacks. For her daily tips, free newsletters and more, visit her website at Komando.com.