Being Tracked By Online Ads? Opting Out Is Getting Easier

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If you’re like most people who use the web, you may be unaware that many of the sites you visit have been taking notes about your browsing behavior.

These notes are stored in tiny files called cookies—everyone likes cookies, right?—and are used by several large advertising companies to build what’s supposed to be a non-identifying profile about you full of information about the types of sites you visit. This information is then used to serve up online ads that appeal to you based on your interests. It may also be sold, too!

For instance, let’s say “Big Online Ad Company” serves up ads on a bunch of the websites I like to visit. Not all of them, but many of them. It knows, based on the cookies it’s stored on my computer, that I like gadgets. Well lo and behold, I tend to see a lot of online ads for gadgets as I browse the web.

Though Big Online Ad Company isn’t supposed to know my name or address or anything like that, it sure knows a lot about me anyway since I spend a lot of time online. And how can I really be sure that none of the other companies that do the same thing as Big Online Ad Company haven’t stored information about me that I don’t want them to have?

So believe it or not, some people don’t like the idea of being tracked like this. Even the Federal Trade Commission doesn’t like this, as evidenced by its recent proposal of a “Do Not Track” mechanism that would effectively let users opt out of being tracked online.

(More on FTC’s ‘Do Not Track’ Is More ‘Please Don’t Track’)

While the FTC’s proposal outlines more of a self-policing system for online advertisers to follow, the companies that make the web browsers people use to get online are already taking steps to let people opt out proactively.

Google appears to be one of the first out of the gate with today’s “Keep My Opt-Outs” extension for its Google Chrome web browser. Installing this extension effectively prevents you from being tracked by more than 50 advertising companies—15 of which make up the largest online ad networks in the country. And while you’ve been able to opt out from being tracked by these companies already, the process isn’t all that simple.

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