If I’m reading a newspaper on the internet, I have the impression that the
paper knows what I am doing. How can I prevent this? With kindest regards.
In this excerpt from
Answercast #19, I look at some of the methods that websites and advertisers
use to deliver (what they might consider to be) personalized ads. And yes, it
does involve tracking your browsing actions.
It depends on what you mean by “knows what you’re doing.”
The newspaper doesn’t obviously; it’s the website. The website may have advertisers that are part of advertising networks that build up profiles, not of you specifically, but the person, the average person in your area. Or a profile of the person who uses this computer (i.e. usually this person looks at these things; likes these things…)
They may end up targeting ads based on what they believe is most appropriate for you or for the generic person who uses this computer.
How to prevent tracking
You can prevent it to a certain degree by blocking all cookies. Then, all of a sudden, lots of things stop working. You can’t login to sites; you can’t stay logged into sites.
You can try it. Opt out of ad tracking. But that may not prevent whatever it is you mean by “the paper knows what you’re doing.”
The internet is not private
Ultimately, there’s a certain amount of (I don’t want to say privacy, but…) a certain amount of information that by the nature of using the internet, you are giving up. You are giving certain information to the newspaper.
Obviously, the newspaper (at least) knows which articles on the newspaper you’re looking at. They are tracking this in the sense that this computer visited that page, then that page, then that page.
They may be using that alone to infer all sorts of things about you, like the kinds of things you’re interested in. If you’re only visiting the sports pages, then chances are they’re only going to show you sports ads. If you’re only visiting the news or the entertainment pages, they may very well target based on that.
It’s difficult to say without knowing exactly what you mean by, “They know what you’re doing.”
The “price” we pay
In reality, in a very real sense, simply knowing what page you’re going to – one after the other, what pieces of information you’re viewing on a website – is part of the price you pay, if you will, for visiting that website.
Even on Ask Leo!, chances are when you visit this page, and then that page, and then another page, I can find that in my logs. I could track that if I wanted to. I have no reason to… but I could.
More to the point, the advertising networks that I use (in my particular situation, one provided by Google) certainly can track what you look at on my site… and potentially, what you look at on other sites that also use the same advertising provider.
That is, in a lot of ways, how a lot of the information on the internet stays free. So it’s not something that I generally worry about.
It’s not something that’s very easy to totally opt out of. But like I said, it really depends on what you mean by “knowing what you’re doing.”
Next from Answercast 19 – How do I get access to a second-hand PC that’s password protected?