Sometimes gathering information on your online activities as simple as the Facebook, Twitter, and Google+ buttons you see on just about every site these days. Those buttons don't just allow you to share interesting blog posts with your favorite social network, they also allow those sites to track what pages you visit even if you aren't logged into those social sites or have an account with them. Other times information collection companies rely on embedded code in banner ads that track your visits, preferences, and demographic information.
While the collection of this information is mostly geared towards delivering you ads that are of interest to you, many people don't feel comfortable having their every online activity recorded, analyzed, and sold.
What You Can Do About Online Ad Tracking
Here's how to turn on the Do Not Track feature in popular web browsers. It's not a fail-safe, though. Since Do Not Track has not been standardized yet (it's a work in progress), many advertisers ignore it.
Chrome: Under Settings>>Show advanced settings check off the “Send a “Do Not Track” request with your browsing traffic.
Safari: Under Preferences>>Advanced check off “Show Develop menu in menu bar.” Then under Develop, select “Send Do Not Track HTTP Header.”
Firefox: Under Options>>Privacy check off “Tell websites I do not want to be tracked”
Internet Explorer 9: Under Settings>>Safety select “Tracking Protection.” Then click the Enable button.
However, most of the ads you see online are likely served by Google. And Google does allow you to manage your ad preferences for whether you want to see personalized ads. Keep in mind that turning off personalized ads may give you the impression of privacy, but your browsing habits may still be tracked, it just won't be used to serve ads. And seeing non-targeted ads may actually be less useful to you.
If you're curious about how Google has classified you for ad targeting, you can view your Google cookie to see your demographic information and interest categories. You may be surprised by how accurately (or inaccurately) your browsing habits portray who you really are.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Some readers have asked about turning off cookies in your browser to prevent tracking. This will work as well, though you may find it significantly impacts your web browsing experience as many sites require cookies to log in or for basic site functionality. If complete web privacy is important to you, we suggest you read our article on Browsing the Web Anonymously.
Other Ways to Protect Your Privacy Online
Looking for other ways to protect your privacy online? Here are a few of our must-read guides to help you manage what is and isn't seen by marketers.
- Facebook's New Privacy Controls
- Protecting Your Privacy When Posting on Facebook
- 5 Critical Google Privacy Settings
- Browsing the Web Anonymously
- Can You Use Technology Without Risking Your Privacy?
In an age when even your TV may be spying on you, it always pays to stay up to date on how your activities are being used.