1: Block web trackers and ad serving

Updated: May 7

Many sites track your web activity and “follow” you as you visit other web sites to “nag” you about a purchase or other action; for example, to purchase an item you viewed previously. In this post, we explore three things you can do easily to block web trackers.

Websites you visit will often continue to follow you with intrusive ads, amounting to “online stalking.” For example, if you look at a site for designer sunglasses, as you later visit other sites, a personalized ad for a pair of designer sunglasses that you viewed earlier may appear. Much has been written online about this phenomenon. For example, Cnet’s Apple’s Cook says that ads that follow you online are ‘creepy’ or Lifewire’s Why online ads follow you around the web.

These sites do this by installing “tracking cookies” and other techniques we will address in our next post. A “cookie” is a file installed on your computer or device with information about what you have done. Some cookies improve convenience as they remember prior activity. For example, with a more benign cookie, a site might remember your login credentials so that you do not need to login on subsequent visits from the same computer or device, or they remember your shopping cart contents if you closed your session before checking out, or they remember that you are a returning customer and avoid one-time displays you may not want to see every time you enter their sites.

Other “cookies,” however, are “tracking cookies” installed on your computer by web sites for the purpose of tracking your web activities and then send you ads as you browse the web.

More and more online ads are targeted to your online actions. Some install tracking cookies that send data to their servers or servers of third-party marketing firms. While we recognize that many sites rely on ads for their revenue and therefore the ability to operate their web site, many users are finding online ads to be increasingly invasive, hindering their workflow, and chewing up bandwidth (particularly annoying on smart phones on limited data plans).

We discuss and provide some links to recommended instructions for three things you can do to minimize web tracking and ad-serving. We explore each of the following three actions in detail in the next three blog posts.

Take-Aways: To minimize web tracking and ad serving, we recommend the following actions, explored in detail in the next three blog posts:

  1. Delete tracking cookies

  2. Install ad-blocking extensions to your browser

  3. Choose a browser that proactively and by default blocks tracking cookies

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