Ad personalization is the result of those targeted ads that try to offer you items based on your social activity, the web pages you visit, and your general behavior online. Unfortunately, instead of tailoring ads to people, targeted ads can backfire and give you the same stream of repetitive, useless ads across all of your networks, just because of a page you liked on Facebook or an item you briefly looked at in an e-commerce store.
People also worry about the invasion of privacy that comes with peeking into your Internet habits and using them to sell you stuff.
Fortunately, there’s a solution, generally called opting out. This allows you to decline (or forcibly remove) tracking features so that yours ads stay bland and your privacy stays that much more private. Here are several of the best ways to opt out.
Avoiding Ad Personalization: Tweaking Your Browser
There are several browser tricks that you can use to discourage ad personalization, especially when it comes to your settings and history. Search engines often use your browser history to fuel ad personalization: Delete your history and the ad targeters will have little to use. Most browsers also offer private modes that do not record history in the first place.
If constantly deleting or managing your browsing history sounds like a pain, there are several additional steps you can also take, based on your browser. The top names — Chrome, Firefox, Safari, etc. — offer ways for you to specifically avoid ad network “stalkers.”
These settings essentially tell your browser to treat certain functions differently, so that your actions are not tracked. For Chrome, you need a “Keep My Opt-Outs” extension. For Firefox, you need to enable the “Tracking Protection” option in settings. Safari’s version is called “Do No Track” and so forth.
Signing Up for Opt-Outs
There is a more direct way of opting out of ad tracking. You can directly to the source (those creating the ads) and request that you not be tracked. There’s a couple different ways to do this. Some sites allow you to sign up for a mass opt-out that affects many different marketing businesses. However, this isn’t a legal requirement, you essentially take participating companies at their word that they will not track you if you ask nicely. This is not a guarantee of privacy.
However, many big brands are anxious to appease potential customers and will indeed stop their own ad personalization, which brings us to the second direct opt-out option. Take Microsoft, which has an opt-out page that will work for whichever browser you are using. If a particular brand is bothering you with its mistargeted ads, check and see if they have a similar “de-personalization” option.
Moving Your Networks to Better Privacy Settings
Social media also does its share to help marketing systems personalize ads. Take each, one at a time, and change your privacy settings to stop from receiving personalized social ads. It works a bit differently for every network. Facebook always you to change your ads in “Settings,” while Twitter’s option is a simple checkbox in “Security Settings,” and so forth.
Google deserves a special mention here because it tracks activity on several different levels and you need to take a few extra steps. You should try opting out on Google+, Google Shared Endorsements, and Google’s interest-based ads, just to cover all your bases. Mashable has a collection of links that you can use to find the right web pages to visit.
Using Smart Cookie Management
Cookies are a more in-depth way for you to personally manage your browser behavior. However, there’s a catch here: Cookies are a very versatile, powerful tool, and only a portion of them are actually involved in ad personalization. However, managing your cookies can also help you personally opt-out of many targeting maneuvers, no matter what companies want.
For whatever browser you use, your goal is usually to stop “tracking cookies” by disabling the right features, typically found where the privacy and opt-out options lurk in your settings menu. If you do not have a specific option to delete only tracking cookies, you will have to go through the traditional “clear cache and cookies” option. This tends to come with a higher price, because this clears all cookies, including the more useful versions that remember your passwords and web addresses to help fill your forms.
Remember, clearing your cookies works only once — you will have do it again in several weeks to continue your defense against those targeted ads.