So You’re Being Tracked Online – Now What?

Consider the idea that Facebook, Google, and Twitter are all collectively tracking us for targeted advertising. These social media companies do not necessarily sell your data directly, but they do sell access to you. Read more to learn how to limit their access!

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YOU’RE BEING TRACKED ONLINE – HERE’S HOW YOU CAN STOP IT:

It’s no secret that our data is being tracked. Too many times have we often been searching online for a pair of shoes, sports tickets, or even a new car, when incredibly specific ads begin filling up our social media feed – and never in a subtle fashion.

Advertising, specifically targeted ads, is a huge source of revenue for social media outlets. In fact, 98 percent of Facebook’s revenue comes directly from advertisements, and in the first three months of 2019 alone, Facebook generated $14.9 billion in ad revenue. Both Google and Twitter also collected large sums of ad revenue for the same three months: $30.7 billion and $787 million, respectively; however, despite their differing approaches, they have all shared one main success: targeting.

Consider the idea that Facebook, Google, and Twitter are all collectively tracking our search history, our location, and even our personal data for specific targeted advertising. To be clear, these social media companies do not necessarily sell your data directly, but they do sell access to you.

HOW DO TARGETED ADS WORK?

Targeted ads are usually created by collecting your browser cookies and IP address. Simply, your cookies include your search and browser history; oppositely, your IP address is used to be able to determine your location. These elements, combined with the information you make public on social media outlets, such as your gender, age, interests, preferences, and even your political affiliation, can be used to predict and create advertisements that might best align with your interests to increase the chance of getting you to click on the ads and links presented to you.

For example, if you and your friends are likely to frequent the beach a couple of times a year, and if you typically post photos of those occasions, social networks might then suggest advertisements surrounding bathing suits, surf shops, hotel-booking websites, etc. Not only are the websites you visit recorded, but also how long you spend on those websites.  

Unless you’re planning on dropping off the grid, there’s very little you can do to prevent you from being tracked online completely; however, there are a few steps that you can take to lessen your footprint.

HOW TO STOP TARGETED ADS

TURN OFF COOKIES

Regardless of your browser, there are likely options you can take to turn off your cookies, typically found in the browser settings. In Google Chrome, merely click the three dots in the top right-hand corner of the browser window, then Settings → Advanced → Privacy and security→ Clear browsing data → Cookies and other site data.

You’ll then be given a check-list of data, which you can pick and choose from what data you’d like to clear. From there, you’ll be given the option to delete your cookies and data from even as far as four weeks, or you can play it safe and delete it all.

DISABLE AD TRACKING

Some browsers offer plug-ins to limit data tracking, like Mozilla Firefox. On Google Chrome, you can easily turn “Do Not Track” on or off by going to Settings → Advanced → Privacy and security. You’ll be given an option to send a “Do Not Track” request with your browsing traffic, which you can easily enable or disable.

NOTE: These instructions are specifically for adjusting settings on a computer. If you’d like more information on how to enable or disable the “Do Not Track” feature on either an Android or iPhone/iPad, click this link.

TURN OFF TARGETED FACEBOOK ADS

You can turn off targeted Facebook ads directly by going to Settings → Ads → Ad settings. The page then lists three different types of ads: Ads based on data from partners, ads based on your activity on Facebook Company Products, and ads that include your social actions. Once you click on one of these options, you can then read more about them and use your best judgement regarding whether or not you’d like to continue allowing the feature.

When attempting to regulate your ad settings on Facebook, you are given a unique option to see which businesses have been “hand-picked” to advertise to you based on your interests. For example, after following these same steps, businesses like Spotify, Samsung, and LinkedIn were in my top list. On this same page, you are also able to see your interests listed out, typically taken directly from your previously “liked” pages. Most of my “likes” on Facebook are fairly outdated, and they might need to be updated if I like to see a better selection of ads generated for me; however, it does give further insight on the sort of information Facebook is giving third-parties access to. You can also regulate or “hide” certain ad topics that might be sensitive to you.

You can also limit ads on Twitter, Instagram, and Twitter; however, for the sake of the length of this article, here are some links to more how-to’s.

GO INCOGNITO

Browsers such as Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, and Safari all have a private browser setting (also known as incognito) that you can easily enable. Using the incognito setting means your browser will then ignore cookies, including ad-tracking cookies. It will also not record your search history. Going incognito is an incredibly easy solution to prevent future ad-tracking.

LIMIT PERSONAL INFORMATION ON SOCIAL MEDIA

Part of the data that is sometimes collected in targeting efforts is the information seen and gathered on a typical social media page: age, gender, location, interests, photos, etc. Although some of this information may be required upon the creation of the account, if you have the option to opt out of sharing these personal details, it might be a tiny step toward avoiding your data from being shared with third-party companies. You should also generally refrain from sharing information such as birthdays, pet names, etc. on social media because this type of information is typically found in passwords, and can also be used to hack into your accounts.

And although this might be alarming to you, rest assured; collecting cookies, which is the primary source of information gathered for targeting, is a widely-used practice on the web to better enhance content that is specific to you. On the other hand, your data is precious. Your data is precious. Companies pay millions, and sometimes billions, of dollars to gain access to it. So why wouldn’t you treat it as such?

This blog post was created on behalf of celebrating National Cyber Security Awareness Month (NCSAM). At Sentar.com, we’ll be posting reliable, interesting articles on relevant topics on how you can best protect you, your data, and your devices throughout the entire month. Want to know more? Check in back later this week.

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