Prevent Targeted Online Advertising By Controlling Cookies

Ah, advertising; it’s the bane of every Internet user’s existence. In fact, I think most people would agree that the only time Americans care about ads is during the Super Bowl, when advertisers actually try to entertain their audience. And sure, there are a rare few ads on the Internet that are genuinely funny and entertaining. But in my humble opinion, this is the exception, and not the rule.

It is actually pretty frightening how advanced modern internet marketers have become. One of their favorite tricks is targeted online advertising, and it makes a lot of sense from their perspective. In the old days, when television reigned supreme, marketers didn’t have a high degree of control over ads. Sure, they had demographic information and data for various channels and time slots, but their ads weren’t very precise. As a result, a lot of people who wouldn’t share an interest in their product or make a purchase sae their ad, effectively misappropriating a company’s advertising budget.

Hence the advent of targeted online marketing, whereby skilled marketing professionals can pick through vast amounts of data such as age, ethnicity, income level, and a thousand other invasive statistics all for one purpose: to stick an ad in front of your face. Marketing is just a natural part of modern business, but it has a few problems.

targetedads2Most people don’t like the feeling of discovering that their browser and computer can artificially “learn” information about them. It feels like an invasion of privacy to know that your online browsing habits are being tracked, even if the data is stored in a cookie. The good news is that users have a lot of tools at their disposal to help maintain their privacy online and to thwart targeted advertising.

First off, note that there are a lot of browser extensions designed to help stop targeted advertising. In addition, there are other methods such as cookie management plugins and extensions. Adblock is another popular choice too, which even has the power to stop embedded YouTube ads from disrupting your online experience.

However, today we’re going to take a closer look at how to opt out of targeted advertising on a personal basis. Most companies include some method, to allow users to opt out of their advertising programs, albeit perhaps a little buried and hard to find. Being one of their major sources of income, advertising companies or agencies don’t want users to opt out, and the options to do so are “well-kept secrets”.

Google’s Ad Settings

Google, the industry leading search engine and mega-corporation, gets a fair amount of their annual revenue from advertising. Thankfully though, they include ways to help control and mitigate the number and types of ads you are presented with. It’s nice that they there’s a few different options, such as selectively removing subjects, saying no to “ads on Google,” or “Google ads across the web.”

To opt out, you simply need to visit their ads settings page, browse to the very bottom, and make your selection. Even after you have changed the ad settings, we need to make an important distinction. This does not remove all ads from the Internet. Instead, it stops Google from collecting data about you and then sending you unique ads that they think you’ll be interested in. Remember though that this setting to disable targeted advertising is stored within your browser, so it won’t apply if you browse the internet on another computer, or change web browsers altogether.

The Google Advertisement Cookie Plugin

targetedads3There’s actually a browser plugin that was designed specifically for the purpose of preserving and configuring your Google ad settings. After all, who would want to change their ad settings every time they fire up a web browser? This plugin will help ensure that your Google ad settings cookie isn’t accidentally removed or deleted. The plugin is available for Chrome, Firefox, and good ol’ Internet Explorer.

TACO

All of this talk of cookies and tacos is making me hungry. But Taco (Targeted Advertising Cookie Opt-Out) is another perfectly legitimate browser tool that helps create cookies that contain opt-out settings for hundreds of different types of ads. It’s available for both Chrome and Firefox, and includes the opt-out for the Google Advertisement Cookie Plugin.

NAI Consumer Opt-Out Tool

You know advertisers are getting out of control when there’s a national initiative to hold them in check. The National Advertising Initiative is a group of over 97 top ad agencies (Google included) that want to give consumers the ability to opt out if they wish. In one fell click, you’ll be able to eradicate targeted advertising from all the companies that have joined up.

Final Thoughts

Personally, I’m so wary of cookies that I use a cookie manager extension, place a data cap on how large they can be, and shy away from sites that want to install flash cookies in my browser. I really think that cookie management is a crucial part of web security, but there are better ways to opt out of targeted online advertising than the preceding methods. Just remember that you’re placing your trust into an ad agency to uphold their end of the deal. If you’re serious about disabling targeted advertising, you can use these methods in combination with other tools like Adblock, Disconnect, Ghostery, and Cookie Monster.

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