Facebook's been the king of personalized advertising for a long while, at least within that site's walled garden. The company, which has billions of users serving up biographical data and "likes" of companies and interests, knows you better than anyone. The company's "like" buttons on third-party sites also track you across the web, providing even more information on your preferences based on your browsing history.
And now, Facebook plans on sharing that information with ad providers on non-Facebook sites.
It's a bit creepy, but it's also not new: advertisers have been stalking you for years, through cookies and other means. That's why, if you visit a site looking for knitting needles or a rifle stock, you may see advertisements for knitting or firearms on the next few sites you visit. Fortunately, there are ways to opt-out of "online behavioral advertising."
Self-Regulatory Program for Online Behavioral Advertising's Opt Out Page
The Digital Advertising Alliance, an industry group of all of the major advertising stalkers, has a centralized opt-out page which should be your first stop on the path to de-creeping your web surfing. A few notes:
- Turn off ad blockers and privacy plugins before using the site. Otherwise, it can't read who is currently tracking you.
- The site is ridiculously slow. Let it do its thing in the background.
- There's a handy "Choose All" button at the bottom.
- The site is also only semi-functional -- we had errors when trying to opt out of Facebook and Google tracking when using Google Chrome.
- Because this uses a cookie, you'll need to do this in every browser on every computer,
- It'd be advisable to re-opt out every month or so, as new companies join (over the last week, two new companies started tracking my work computer), and cookies can expire or get deleted.
Everyone should surf the web with an ad blocker installed, and Adblock Plus (ABP) is the most popular of the lot. It's an extension for your browser that blocks ads -- tracking or not tracking -- providing you with a faster, less annoying browsing experience. Again, some notes:
- You'll need to disable the "acceptable ads" feature manually -- it allows some supposedly non-intrusive ads to display.
- If a site ever fails to load correctly (as is often the case with ad-supported video sites, like ABC, CBS, etc.) you can click the Stop sign logo in the top right and disable ABP for that site only.
- There are custom ad block lists that will target malware sites, foreign language ads, and more.
We mentioned this handy tool when it was first released a few weeks ago, but it definitely belongs on this list as well. The EFF's Privacy Badger blocks tracking cookies and scripts on websites, which makes ad stalking far more difficult.
A warning, however: this extension is in pre-beta, so it may not be perfectly stable. Also, some sites may fail to function if this is enabled. Much like ABP, you can click the Privacy Badger icon and disable the extension entirely -- or enable certain trackers to restore functionality (such as enabling the Facebook "like" button).
Editor's Note, June 14, 2016: This post was first published in June, 2014. It has since been updated.
- The New Facebook Audience Network: Will it Work for Lawyers? (FindLaw's Technologist Blog)
- The Winners and Losers of EFF's 'Who Has Your Back?' Privacy Report (FindLaw's Technologist Blog)
- European Court Fixes The Embarrassing Google Results Problem (FindLaw's Technologist Blog)