The Flap Over Google Targeted Ads

I value my privacy as much as anyone. That said, I really don’t see why so many people are so very upset about the targeted ads.

I have always been a person who tries to err on the side of caution in all things, but it seems to me that unless you are a person who is doing something questionable or illegal, this should not bother you.

Why do I say this? Well, if you truly are that worried about anonymous surfing, you would have already begun using a proxy server, and done many other things to erase any tracks in the ether you might leave. It seems to me that if you are that worried, you should only do any surfing from places like the public library, or a cyber cafe, making any tracking that much harder, as your machine would not be able to work against you, as it is out of the equation entirely.

The only problem I see with targeted ads is that I personally, have been seeing the same ones for quite a while. It almost seems as though the ads will not change until a purchase is made.

A couple of weeks ago, I started looking to replace a few CDs that had been sold by an angered wife (long story, another day entirely). I was looking at some Rolling Stones discs and also a few Beatles albums. Thrown in were a couple of peeks at Amazon at some Robin Trower releases and I was done for that session.

Imagine my surprise when I was visiting various sites, totally unrelated to music, and found price quotes under album art for the Beatles, Rolling Stones, and Robin Trower. This took a while, and a lot of other browsing, to go away, but other than that, was not especially bothersome. Since I don’t care who knows what my musical tastes are it is not a big deal.

Perhaps if I was looking for something indelicate, like absinthe, Viagra, or prescription drugs from another country, I would get a bit upset, but then, if I truly was worried, I would change my browsing habits, as mentioned above.

Does Google targeting you with ads ruffle your feathers, or are you like me, and basically unbothered by this innocuous behavior?

I don’t think of Popular Science as a mainstream location for computer advice, but there is a complete article there, for people so concerned. Since it is in Pop Sci, you know it is easily understood by even the least technical.

How To Stop Google From Following You
A simple tool lets you opt out of advertising programs that track your Web clicks

Hundreds of thousands of Web sites show ads provided by Google, such as those little text ads that offer you everything from diets to dog training. Now Google has announced plans to track your clicks across all these sites, and then serve up ads personalized to your tastes. Visit a bunch of electronics-related sites, say, and the next site you view may show you an ad for the latest must-have gadget, even if you’re now reading about ways to reduce stress through yogic meditations.

As Big Brother as it sounds, this is actually something that many advertising companies already do. But don’t worry: There’s a way to stop Google–and all the others–from prying.

First, Google has offered up several ways to change and reduce the info it stores about you. Using its new Ads Preferences Manager, you can delete any of the interests that Google believes you have, such as Entertainment or Travel. You can even add interests, if you happen to like personalized advertising.

If you don’t want Google to store any information at all, you can click “Opt Out” on their Preferences page. That gets rid of the “cookie,” or little ID code saved in your browser, that Google uses to recognize you when you visit one of its advertising partners. (More info on Google’s tracking method here.) (Funnily enough, opting out assigns you a different cookie instead, one that lets Google remember your browser as one it can’t collect info about.)

Although it isn’t well-publicized, many other Internet advertisers offer a way to opt out of their programs, too. Free yourself from dozens at once at Network Advertising Initiative, whose site shows you which ad networks are currently tracking you and lets you opt out of all of them with a click.

To learn about other ways that sites can track you–and how to stop it–read our recent “Ask A Geek” column.

So there it is, help for the worried, and possibly a better understanding of the system in place, for all.

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Money won’t buy happiness, but it will pay the salaries of a large research staff to study the problem.

Bill Vaughan

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