USA TODAY Tech columnist Kim Komando explains how to stop annoying ads from following you online. Special for USA Today.
Is this just a coincidence? If you recently looked at cameras online, you’ll see ads for cameras. If you browsed new outfits, shirts and trousers emerge in the margins of your browser.
Not long ago, “interest-based advertising” creeped out a lot of people. They couldn’t understand why (for example) Facebook knew what they had just shopped for on Amazon. The truth is that personalized ads are the result of a very impersonal process.
Your details are crunched bits of data that make marketing more efficient. Interest-based advertising uses information gathered through your browser. Special algorithms analyze your visits over time and across different websites. This helps predict your preferences and shows you ads that are more likely to be of interest to you.
Sometimes, all this tracking can overwhelm the average customer. While the process is basically automatic and unmanned, such ads can feel like an invasion privacy. This is why many people look for ways to throw them off your scent.
Here are three simple ways you can do just that.
Wipe out history, turn off cookies
To start, you’ll want a clean slate. Eliminate any trace of your past searches. Clear all your browsing data, history, cache and cookies from your web browsers.
Next, disable or limit tracking on your gadget. This includes favorite services like Facebook. If you’re not sure how exactly how to do this, here are the steps to wipe out where you’ve been and what you’ve done.
Next, make sure you delete third-party advertising cookies, too. Learn how to remove them and prevent them from coming back.
Afterwards, take a moment and 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. Tap here for the free download and more details.
Opt out of ads
You may only notice 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.
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. Your computer won’t record your browsing history, 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; and 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.
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