Advertisers are creating digital dossiers on you. Here’s how to stop them.
Your digital privacy is being violated by ad networks.
Have you ever noticed an advertisement in your web browser or on your phone that seemed perfect for you? Or maybe you noticed an ad that wasn’t perhaps perfect for you, but it did relate to something you had recently searched the Internet for information about? When you browse the Internet, many sites are violating your digital privacy by collecting information about you. When you search for specific terms, or add certain items to a cart, or read some articles– really, just about anything you do– sites are tracking you and selling that information to advertisers, or selling advertisers space on their websites so that the advertisers can place “tracking cookies” on your computer for themselves. Even worse, many of these advertisers belong to ad networks, so that they all share information they learn about you with all the other members of the network. That allows them to create very detailed profiles about users.
A couple years ago, a father called Target angry that they had started sending his 16 year old daughter expectant-mother ads. He had to call back and apologize because it turned out his daughter was actually pregnant! The advertising network had figured it out before the girl’s father did. Such targeting (pardon the pun!) advertising is referred to as “online behavioral advertising.”
And guess what? Facebook is a member of one of these ad networks called the Digital Advertising Alliance (DAA). Think about everything Facebook knows about you. Every time you Like something, post on a business’s wall, look at business’s wall, or entertainment page. Where you live, your favorite sports teams, where you went to school, who you spend time with. And they share that information will all the members, which includes Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, LinkedIn, Chrysler, GM, Harley Davidson, Allstate, American Express, citi, Bank of America, Amazon, Comcast, Disney, ESPN, AT&T, Sprint, Verizon…. how’s that for some powerhouse companies? Think if all of these combine their datastreams regarding your online activities they might be able create a pretty good profile about you?
Fortunately, there is a something you can do. The DAA provides an opt-out page that will search your computer for cookies left by participating companies, and allow you to opt out of any (or all) you choose. You can find the opt-out tool at http://www.aboutads.info/choices/. Any companies you opt out of will still collect information on you when you visit their site, but they won’t share it with anyone. Not a perfect solution, but it does prevent a large, detailed shared profile being created about you. Since this opt-out tool is based on cookies, you’ll need to run the tool for each browser you use, and for each computer you use. (Facebook is an exception, opt out just once for Facebook, and it will respect your request everywhere.)
Again, since the tool relies on cookies, there is an issue if those opt out cookies get deleted. If you occasionally clean all your cookies out, either using the browser or some 3rd party software, that will delete your opt out cookies. The DAA provides “Protect My Choices” extensions for various browsers so that your opt out cookies won’t get deleted.