Internet Tracking: How To Minimize Data That Is Used

How to miminize interest-based adsMany of us have dabbled in Facebook ads at one time or another with mixed results. As an “Ad Placer,” we can carve out what types of people we want to see our ads by geography, age groups, interests, and more. Up until now, as a Facebook user, the ads you see have been a result of what you do on Facebook, your profile, status updates, and interests.

This is all changing and changing dramatically. Facebook is making a shift to give advertisers more options to tailor ads to what people do outside of Facebook. As if we didn’t get the heebie-jeebies already, Facebook is teaming up with retail stores to analyze data about purchases and what Facebook knows about you. In other words, Facebook is sharing with retailers the fact that you saw an ad for shoes and matching it up with the fact that you purchased the same brand in a retail store later. This is powerful information for advertisers and of course, helps Facebook sell more ads.

The reality is, you are being tracked everywhere. The only way to prevent tracking is to stop using the Internet. That is not an option for an Indie Author.

As we conduct our business on the Internet, you are going to receive ads, Facebook or not, based on lots of data about you. Some platforms such as Twitter, Hulu, and Pinterest have agreed to adhere to voluntary guidelines called “do not track.” With those, you can set your preferences to minimize tracking. So far, Google, Facebook, and Yahoo have not elected to participate.

If you are a mobile user, you can incorporate your own version of “Do Not Track.” With iPhones and iPads, you can go to [Settings], [Privacy], and all the way at the bottom [Advertising], then select [Limit Ad Tracking]. On Android, go to [Google Settings] (not regular settings) then choose [Ads] and select [Opt out of interest-based ads].

As writers, we often research some, how should I say it … questionable material … for our novels. It is a good idea to use [Private Browsing] on your browser to minimize your association to the subject you are browsing. However, it doesn’t mean that you won’t be tracked. Sometimes, when I’m deep in the my writing, I bounce out to look something up on the fly and forget to use the private browsing tab; next thing I know, I’m getting some really weird ads.

To help decrease the number of interest-based ads you receive, go to  Self-Regulatory Program for Online Behavioral to opt out of targeted ads. There are 116 companies participating, including Facebook and Google. If you use multiple browsers (Internet Explorer, Firefox, or Chrome) you would need to opt out for each browser. This won’t stop you from seeing ads; they just won’t be tailored to you based on your online activities. Of course, it also doesn’t stop you from being tracked by Facebook and everyone else. It means your tracking information will not be used for targeted ads.

By using the Internet, we in essence give permission for companies to gather information on us. With these steps, you can control … in a small way … how companies use the information that they gather.

Author: Jim Devitt

Jim Devitt’s debut YA novel, The Card, hit #1 in three separate categories on the Kindle Bestseller list in early January and was a finalist in the Guys Can Read Indie Author Contest this past summer. Devitt currently lives in Miami, FL with his wife Melissa and their children. Learn more about Jim at his blog and his Amazon author page.

20 thoughts on “Internet Tracking: How To Minimize Data That Is Used”

  1. Really helpful information, Jim – thank you! This will show just how inexperienced I am with technology, but I never knew there was a “Private Browsing” option – where do I find it?

    1. Thanks, Melinda. I use Firefox almost exclusively, you’ll find the private browsing option in the menu, the three lines in the upper right hand corner. Open that and select private browsing and it will open a new tab/window to browse from. In Internet Explorer, click on the settings (the gear in the upper right hand corner) and select “Safety” then you’ll see the private option.

  2. It’s no longer the call in the middle of the night, “I have your children,” we fear. Rather, “I have your browser history,” provokes real panic!

    Years ago right after 911 cell phone users in the US had to replace their cell phones as the mobile networks were being upgrade to a new system. At the time this meant more dropped calls and a greatly reduced range as the new system required more towers that had not yet been constructed. However it was illegal to sell an older phone and as plans expired you had to purchase a new phone.

    I resisted as my existing phone was working just fine and I liked it. The salesperson gently persisted as it was the law and I would also have the added benefit of emergency services being able to pinpoint my location to within 9 meters in the event of an accident versus 3 km. My thoughts at the time were if I’m unable to tell emergency services where I am, maybe it’s best they don’t find me or it’s probably too late for them to help me.

    Fast forward to the present and we have billions of people voluntarily walking around with a tracking device. I think the battle over tracking us online has already been lost in the same manner.

  3. It’s funny, when politicians want to make us carry a global identifying card, we resist vigorously, however when fashion and convenience nudge us towards Big Brother we stand in queues for the privilege. 🙁

  4. Great post and great timing, Jim. I noticed in the last several weeks that whenever I did a search online for something, whenever I came back to facebook, an ad for the very thing was displayed on the right side of my screen. I thought, what the heck, and now I know why. Thanks for the info.

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