Do you ever feel like someone's watching you, especially when you're online? You search for something in your web browser and then see online ads for the same thing? That's not coincidental, those are called targeted ads. If you think it's a little bit too much like big brother watching you, Consumer Reports has some tips to help you get your privacy back.
If you're seeing ads that seem to be based on your browsing history, you're not alone.
Those are called targeted ads, and Consumer Reports says instead of reaching a mass audience like TV commercials do, targeted ads allow advertisers to reach specific consumers.
"They're directed specifically at you and they're based on the things that companies think you may be interested in or maybe are more likely to buy," said Consumer Reports Tech Editor Thomas Germain.
Companies do this, in part, by keeping track of what you're searching for online.
"Let's say you're shopping for sneakers on the internet. Companies are keeping track of the websites you visit and the things you're doing on digital products and sooner or later, you're going to see a sneaker ad," Germain said.
If this feels like you're giving up too much of your privacy, Consumer Reports says there are ways to keep your online activity private.
First, try using an ad blocker. Ad blockers are usually browser extensions that look for the common components of online ads. If they find them, they block them. Some popular options include AdBlock Plus and uBlock Origin.
"You can also use private browsing mode on your browser, which isn't a fool proof method but it will help protect you in some situations," Germain said.
Private browsing mode works in part by deleting the browsing history on your computer after you close it. You can also consider using browsers like Brave and Firefox that have built-in ways to help stop targeted ads.
You can also reset your advertising identifier on your smartphone and opt out of personalized ad tracking using the operating system.
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Consumer Reports: Tips for stopping targeted ads