You may have noticed that you’re being followed – you look at a product once online and then that same product or similar ones pop up in ads on every other site you visit. That’s not a coincidence. You’re being tracked, and most of the times many people don’t even realize it. You wouldn’t allow the government or a private company to put a GPS in your wallet and track the stores and places you visit, so why are you letting Facebook do it?
It’s not just Facebook, either. Tons of online companies are members of ad networks. Cookies are placed in your computer through these ad networks, and each time you visit a site, it recognized your cookies and lets the ad network know you were there. Even scarier? Sites are sharing what you do on their pages with other websites to build a database of your likes and dislikes, making it easy for ad networks to send you ads you’re likely to click on.
Any website working with advertisers and giving them your info should be worrying to you, but with Facebook it’s even worse. Think about it – you’re already telling them exactly what you’re thinking and what your likes are. Every status update, “like”, news story and photo that you put up gives advertisers more and information about you.
In 2013, online tracking and targeted advertising helped Internet advertisers rake in $42.8 billion dollars – last year numbers likely approached or passed $50 million. Of course, you don’t see a penny of this. What you should be concerned about is what happens with your private information and what will happen if hackers ever get a hold of it.
What most people don’t know is that you can opt out of this relatively easily. If you don’t want to be tracked, you can inform an ad network and every company that’s part of it will stop accessing your info. Facebook, for example, is part of the Digital Advertising Alliance with 176 other major companies. You can head to the DAA’s website to opt out of “online behavioral advertising.”
You’ll get access to a tool that scans your computer to see what companies are customizing ads to you – and if you’ve opted out of any online tracking from them in the past. It’s easy to choose specific companies, like Facebook, where you don’t want to see targeted ads. You can also select “Choose all companies” to get rid of all of them. Opting out won’t necessarily stop these sites from collection information, but it does mean they won’t share it with others.
Some companies aren’t part of the DAA, so opting out also won’t change how they track you. One way to do that is to disable third-party cookies in your active browser.
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