Everyone should know that many aspects of your online behavior are visible to others. This data is essential for all businesses with a presence on the Web; it enables them to determine how, where, and when to attract your attention, thus leading to smarter, targeted, and increasingly personalized Internet marketing.
As more and more commercial entities turn to the Internet for customers, those potential customers unwittingly share personal information with a vast array of online parties through HTTP cookies. In this article, you will learn the function of third-party cookies, ad tracking, and how to block internet ad tracking.
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Cookies and their impact on Internet privacy
For each advertisement that appears online, someone records the precise moment you click, roll over, or see it. Known simply as “ad tracking”, the practice stems from age- old market research methodology that determines, on several levels, the effectiveness of the advertisement. On the Internet, most ad tracking is accomplished by way of third-party cookies, or pieces of text that, unbeknownst to you, become embedded in your Web browser depending on various Web page criteria.
Cookies can come from online advertisements, graphics, and the mere act of visiting a website. Without cookies, some popular websites, including Yahoo!, Amazon, and eBay, are rendered nearly inaccessible. In short, cookies make it possible to browse the Internet free of severe restrictions. Anyone who has ever disabled them in the Preferences or Options settings of their browsers knows this. It's also important to note that disabling cookies disables a form of advertising known as retargeting, and without retargeting the ads you'll see when surfing the net are not going to match up with you interests.
That said, not every cookie contained within your browser will (or can) be used for ad tracking purposes. Some, however, relay information to such online data collectors as Google’s DoubleClick, which provides advertisers with metrics on a given ad’s performance, among other data related to you and your online behavior. In the final analysis, it requires a high degree of time and energy to find out what each cookie does and, more importantly, what it says about you.
How to block internet ad tracking
In the past, the only sure way to steer clear of ad tracking on the Internet was to disable cookies. Today, there exist several easy and practical methods to maintain greater privacy over your Internet habits. Owing in part to increased scrutiny over online behavioral ad tracking by the Federal Trade Commission and other government entities, both Google and Yahoo! added special “Opt Out” buttons and comprehensive privacy management functions to all user email accounts.
To activate these options:
- Simply log into your Yahoo! or Gmail account and go to the Yahoo! Ad Interest Manager or Google’s Privacy Center.
- The Opt Out buttons are on the front page of each site, along with a number of advanced options that let you decide which types of ads you would like to see, if any.
- It would be remiss not to mention that “free email” stays free largely because of advertising dollars, though the percentage of users who choose to opt out of ad tracking remains small. At present, the opt-out feature serves as a considerable boon to Internet users concerned with the privacy of their email accounts.
Aside from the efforts of a handful of large-scale online companies, few websites offer users the chance to opt-out of ad tracking mechanisms. As a result, several privacy and consumer advocacy groups have called for the creation of a “do not track” list, including Consumer Watchdog, the Consumer Federation of America, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and the Center for Democracy and Technology. Although still in the formative stages, and meeting resistance from regulators and commercial entities alike, a “do not track” list, much like the National Do Not Call Registry, could provide an effective answer to the longstanding issue of Internet privacy.
Putting Your Online Privacy Under Control
Some Internet and software development firms have created individual browser extensions that permit users to opt out of tracking cookies from a wide range of advertising networks. One such extension, Targeted Advertising Cookie Opt-Out (TACO), helps Internet users avoid and remove tracking cookies from 27 advertising networks. Another, through Reputation.com’s MyPrivacy service, allows subscribers to opt out of more than 100 ad tracking networks, effectively putting the Internet and online privacy back under their control. In the end, Internet marketers will continue to devise new ways to track online behavior and target individual consumers. Fortunately, there are several ways you can protect yourself and keep your Internet usage private by learning how to block internet ad tracking.