Have you noticed that certain ads follow you around the internet and pop up on nearly every website that you visit? Advertisers are watching your behavior and paying for those ads to follow you around. It’s great for retailers because they can spend their advertising dollars reaching the people most likely to buy their products. And you might appreciate that Netflix and Amazon notice what you like and suggest similar products. But it can also be a little creepy to know that everyone from your telecom provider to online retailers and social media sites is tracking what you read, watch, buy, and like, and building profiles of your behavior.
If you do find it creepy, you’re not alone. Privacy advocates worry about all this tracking. In fact, Rachel Leininger, author of Phishing: Cutting the Identity Theft Line, says adware that tracks your habits is “a form of spyware that you may have agreed to.” While there isn’t a lot of evidence that cyber-criminals are using behavioral profiles to target scams (yet), potentially hundreds of companies have been building up and storing that information on you, and any of them could be attacked by hackers, so you need to decide how comfortable you are with that.
Unfortunately, many websites track your behavior unless you explicitly tell them not to. For example, Facebook just started tracking and serving ads even to users who don’t have Facebook accounts, and Apple and Android devices also do ad tracking by default. So if you aren’t comfortable being followed, you’ll have to explicitly opt out. Here are links where you can learn how to opt out on Apple, Android, Facebook, and Google.
If you simply find all those pop-up ads annoying, you can get ad blocker software for your devices and browsers, and much of it is free. But be aware that blocking ads doesn’t stop anyone from tracking your behavior. On the plus side, advertisers are getting the hint that consumers are sick of annoying popup ads and web pages that start blaring video commercials while you’re trying to read the content. Some advertisers and social media sites have even started a movement to create “acceptable” (translation: less annoying) ads.
To be fair, much of the great free content on the internet is supported by advertising, so advertising in itself isn’t evil. But you should be able to choose who is following you and how. And having fewer popups to deal with would be a welcome relief.