How Companies Are Getting Your Browser History And What You Can Do About It

As time goes by, more people are becoming aware of the effects of tracking cookies and the like. But do they know how many tracking cookies are in their browsers? Wouldn’t you like to know who’s tracking you? After all, these cookies are installed on your computer, making it within your power to find and eliminate these cookies. Fortunately, the cookies are not being used to spy on everything you do, per se. Instead, they are used to gather the data necessary to target advertisements more to your liking. However, I’m not sure how long the situation will stay this way.

If you’re interested in knowing what tracking or third-party cookies are, please read my piece and JJ’s piece on MTE about this.

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So you’ve cleared your cookies on your browser. You might have even disabled cookies entirely. That doesn’t exactly shield you from interest-based advertising. You see, companies like Google also keep track of your browser’s unique ID, known as your globally unique identifier (GUID). This identifier can be anything from your IP address to a cookie identifier. Want to see how your browser is identified? Check this page out!

Of course, there are some complications presented if you don’t have cookies enabled. Obviously, this means that the website (Google, for example) can’t keep track of you as an individual. To counter this, some websites will analyze your queries by IP. Ubiquitous companies like Google can use your Gmail account as a basis by which to identify who you are and simply store a database of your queries.

By basing its data on your account rather than cookies in your browser, however, advertisements are better targeted for you. You see, there may be more than one person using your browser, and if the company tracks your browser, you’re going to find a combination of ads targeted to everyone using the computer, not just you. But if your account is used for data mining, then the company will better be able to cater ads to your individual tastes.

The last resort for tracking is your IP address. Since it’s assumed that people in your local area have similar interests, you’ll receive advertisements that cater to people who’ve been sending queries from your IP range. If you notice the language of ads suddenly changing when you use proxy services in different countries, then the ads are using this less effective form of tracking preferences.

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For the most part, yes! You can definitely opt out of interest-based advertising. However, this doesn’t mean that all of the methods mentioned above will be eliminated. At the very least, the companies you opt out of will still be able to track your IP, since it’s information anyone can get when receiving a connection request. There’s no realistic way out of every single interest-based advertising method, but you’ll at least be able to opt out of the most invasive ones.

You can’t really go to Google to remove this. You have to appeal to a third party called the Digital Advertising Alliance. To use their opt-out page, you’ll have to have cookies enabled and all ad blocking software disabled. Visit this page once you’ve done that to opt out of any interest-based advertising you’re not comfortable with. This does not mean that you’re getting rid of ads once and for all. It only means that companies will not be prying into your search data and browser history.

If you’re dying to know more about this, please post a comment below with what you’d like to know!