Online advertising is the price we pay to use most free websites and services. As a website owner myself, I know how important advertising is for supporting a site. I also know that while many people are fine with regular advertising, they aren't as comfortable with targeted advertising.
In case you haven't experienced this, which I find unlikely, targeted advertising is when an ad for a product or site you looked at follows you around from website to website for days or weeks. It's creepy and annoying, but advertisers do it because it’s very effective. In 2013, online tracking and targeted advertising helped Internet advertisers rake in a staggering $42.8 billion.
Targeted advertising across different websites is possible because of ad networks that work together. These are groups of companies that share your information with each other, so they record what sites you're visiting and what products you're researching. The tracking is done with a "cookie" – a small data file the ad network puts in your browser.
The ad networks compile your online activities over months or years to fill a database of your likes and dislikes, which could be a privacy concern. But out of the dozens of ad networks around, only one includes Facebook, which raises more concerns.
That's because most websites have to guess your personal preferences and interests based on the sites you visit, the articles you read and the merchandise you order or at least put in your online cart. On Facebook, you actually tell the company exactly what you're thinking. Every "Like," news story click, status update and photo caption is a bit of information that advertisers would love to add to your file.
Fortunately, there's one good thing about ad networks. Instead of visiting every company in the network and telling them you don't want to be tracked, you can just opt out of the ad network, and it applies to every company in that network.
Facebook and 176 other major companies are part of the Digital Advertising Alliance. You can use a tool on the DAA's website to opt out of "online behavioral advertising." The tool will scan your computer to see what companies are customizing ads to target you. It can also tell if you've opted out of any online tracking for those companies in the past.
You can then choose specific companies and sites, like Facebook, where you don't want to see targeted ads. Or you can click the "Choose all companies" button at the bottom to opt out of targeted ads for every participating network member. Simple!
Now, opting out doesn't stop individual sites from collecting information about you, but it does restrict them from sharing your records with other companies. That limits what any one company potentially knows about you, and it keeps a single ad company from building up a complete profile on you.
Because tracking is cookie-based, so is opting out. The DAA's site will put a cookie in your browser indicating that you don't want to be tracked. This means you'll need to run the tool in every browser and every gadget you use so they're all covered. Facebook is one exception. If you opt out in one browser, it will honor your opt-out whenever you log into Facebook, no matter the browser or gadget.
There are still many companies online that don't participate in the Digital Advertising Alliance, so opting out won't change the way they operate. One way to put a stop to them is to disable third-party cookies in your browsers. You'll just need to wait until after you run the DAA's tool to disable third-party cookies, or the DAA's cookie won't work correctly.
Ready to stop advertiser tracking on Facebook? Click here to visit the Digital Advertising Alliance's tracking opt-out tool.
Your browser isn't the only way advertisers can track you on your mobile gadget. There are also ads in apps. Click here to find out how to opt out of targeted ads on Android and Apple.
You shouldn't just be worried about what advertisers and Facebook can see about you. Strangers could find out more about you than you think if you have the wrong Facebook security settings. Click here to learn how to lock down your Facebook profile from beginning to end.
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On the Kim Komando Show, the nation's largest weekend radio talk show, Kim takes calls and dispenses advice on today's digital lifestyle, from smartphones and tablets to online privacy and data hacks. For her daily tips, free newsletters and more, visit her website at Komando.com. Kim also posts breaking tech news 24/7 at News.Komando.com.