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Keeping the digital ads away from you

Friday 19 February 2016, by SIGNIS

New York, Brussels, February 19th, 2016 (SIGNIS/NYTimes). It happens a lot: you were searching the web for something, and a few minutes later, you see ads popping up on your screen about that same thing. The reason is simple: digital ads are able to follow people around the Internet because advertisers often place invisible trackers on the websites you visit. Their goal is to collect details on everywhere you go on the Internet and use that data to serve targeted ads to your computer, smartphone and connected television.

Here’s how web tracking works: In general, targeting individuals with digital ads involves a sophisticated ecosystem of third parties — like online advertising networks, data brokers and analytics companies — that compile information on consumers. When you visit websites, these companies typically pick out your browser or phone using technologies like cookies, which contain unique alphanumeric identification tags that can enable trackers to identify your activities as you move from site to site. To sell ads delivered to certain categories of consumers companies may sync these ID tags to pinpoint individuals.

The downside is, your browsing history may contain sensitive information about your health concerns, political affiliations, family problems, religious beliefs or sexual habits.

“It’s a huge violation of privacy,” said Cooper Quintin, a privacy advocate for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, digital rights nonprofit that also offers the anti-tracking tool Privacy Badger. “People need to be able to read things and do things and talk about things without having to worry that they’re being watched or recorded somewhere.”

“Our privacy is completely under assault with all these connected devices,” said Jeremiah Grossman, the founder of WhiteHat Security, a web security firm.

The NY Times tested four free privacy tools: Ghostery, Disconnect, RedMorph and Privacy Badger. They all have their pros and cons, some are more difficult than others to set up, some block too much and cause collateral damage. There is no perfect solution.

But even if you decide to use those tools, keep in mind that in the broad arms race between consumers and advertisers, the advertisers always find some way to outmaneuver us.

“We’re talking megabillion-dollar industries totally designed to track you online,” said Grossman. “That’s their mission in life.”

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