One of the biggest threats we face as a society today is the threat of having our personal information exposed to others on the Internet. This information may include names, contact information and even credit card numbers that most of us would ordinarily not want given out to people we don’t know and can’t trust. Much of this information is gained through the use of third-party cookies, used extensively by online advertisers. This article explains how to opt out of ad tracking, with a special emphasis on cookies and some software solutions you might not have heard of.
By now, you should realize that much of your online activity is visible to others. Businesses use the data they gather to determine your interests, approximate location and how to best get your attention. This helps them create smarter, targeted ads that they’re hoping will appeal specifically to you.
As more businesses turn to the Internet to grow their customer base, people everywhere find themselves providing loads of personal information they might not otherwise share. In order to understand how to block ad tracking on the Internet, we must first examine what third-party cookies are and how they work.
Cookies and Privacy
So, what exactly are these “cookies”? A cookie is a small text file that gets stored on your browser when you visit a website. The website also stores a corresponding file of its own to match up with the one it sets in your browser. This allows the site to remember your login information, any customizable preferences, and where you left off, making it much more convenient for you, as a user. However, a cookie can only accomplish all this by tracking your movements within the site and saving any information you provide along the way. Cookies can actually come from virtually anywhere on a website, including those fancy graphics and advertisements you find along the sides of the page.
With that said, not all cookies are used for ad tracking. Some of them actually provide information to online data collectors like Google’s DoubleClick, which give advertisers a way to measure the performance of their own individual ads. Ultimately, it takes lots of time and energy to figure out what each cookie does, as well as what information it might be providing to others about you.
How to Block Ad Tracking
In the past, disabling cookies was the only way to prevent having your activity tracked. However, there are a few other methods available today, thanks in part to increased governmental scrutiny over this controversial practice. Both Yahoo! and Google have added new privacy management functions, including special buttons to opt out of tracking.
Here’s what you need to do to activate them.
- Go to Google Ads Settings at http://www.google.com/settings/ads
- Under “Ads on Google” and “Google Ads Across the Web” click the opt out links.
- Go to the Yahoo! Ad Interest Manager
- Look for the opt out button(s) and click to opt out.
The opt out links might include some more advanced options that allow you to choose which ads you might actually want to see, if any.
It’s worth mentioning that “free” email accounts are only free because they’re paid for with advertising dollars, rather than paid subscriptions. Although they’re seen as very advantageous to the average user, there aren’t very many websites that offer the option to avoid their ads.
There is, however, a movement in the works to create a “do not track” list that would work similar to the National Do Not Call Registry. While this might provide an effective answer to the Internet privacy issue sometime in the future, the idea is still in its early stages.
Additionally, some software companies have created browser extensions that allow their users to opt out of cookies from a variety of different advertising networks. Targeted Advertising Cookie Opt-Out (TACO) is one such extension. TACO helps Internet users remove cookies from up to 27 different advertising networks. MyPrivacy is another such service provided by Reputation.com. It allows its subscribers to opt out of over 100 tracking networks, putting privacy back into the hands of the user.
Ultimately, it goes without saying that Internet marketers are not in the business of losing money. For this reason, we can all expect that they’ll continue to search for even more ways to track our online behavior.
Fortunately, for those of us who want to know how to block ad tracking on the Internet, there are at least a few things we can do to protect our private information. Newer methods will certainly become available over time, as the hot-button issue of Internet privacy grows in importance.