Home > Identity Theft > How to Avoid Online Tracking. (Hint: You Can’t.)

Comments 8 Comments

Smash-ComputerOnline advertisers want to know everything they can about you. To understand why, consider the snow blower. Let’s say it’s January, and Home Depot has 30,000 snow blowers it wants to sell.

There are some customers that Home Depot doesn’t want, like people in Arizona. The retailer probably doesn’t care about customers in Manhattan, either, since most people there don’t own houses or shovel their own driveways.

But there are some customers that Home Depot really wants to reach. It would love to find people who own their own houses, maybe in a northeastern state. Ideally they make enough money to afford a snow blower, and they’re old enough to consider hanging up the shovel for good. Maybe they’ve already been online searching for deals on snow blowers. And maybe the local weather forecaster is predicting their town will get pummeled tomorrow by a blizzard.

That’s the kind of people you want to hit with an advertisement for snow blowers. And now’s the perfect time to do it.

“They know it’s a good bet they could sell you that snow blower before the next storm,” says Jay Sears, general manager of Contextweb, a kind of stock exchange for online advertising.

What Do They Want To Know? Everything.

The information that advertisers need to make that happen is at least as varied as the products they’re trying to sell. Your age, race, gender, income, where you live, your online surfing history, the book you bought last week on Amazon, the things you say to friends on Facebook, all of it can be recorded and used to help serve you an ad that is more likely to catch your eye.

And increasingly, the data isn’t just about what you do online. Internet advertisers are buying access to any data sets they can find – your shopping habits from your grocery store loyalty card, automobile registrations, county criminal records – to learn more things about you than you know yourself (do you remember which brand of toilet paper you bought last week?).

Online advertisers need all this information because they’re trying to decrease the amount of ads they can buy, and increase the success rate on the ads they do buy. Instead of broadcasting ads to the millions of people who watch 60 Minutes, for example, with more data they can drill down to reach just the tens of thousands of people they think might actually buy their product.

The desired effect: More sales for less money.

“The whole point is for the right ad to be shown to the right person at the right time,” Sears says.

Next: How Do They Know That? >>>

Image: James Lee, via Flickr.com

Pages: 1 2 3 4

Comments on articles and responses to those comments are not provided or commissioned by a bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by a bank advertiser. It is not a bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

Please note that our comments are moderated, so it may take a little time before you see them on the page. Thanks for your patience.

  • Adam from London

    Ha I’m running Firefox with Flash blocker and the Panopticlick site doesn’t collect anything.

    It takes 20 seconds to install the flash blocker and it stops flash from running on any site you haven’t specifically allowed.

  • Jane

    I’ve got a program which assigns a random IP address whenever I want to surf the web anonymously. I don’t actually use it much, not being into kiddie p_rn or anything, I just downloaded it because it seemed like a useful thing to have if needed. I don’t use Facebook and I don’t use loyalty cards as they track all your purchases as well as knowing postcode, address and other personal info. I’ve used a flash blocker in the past but then I can’t use internet banking without it.

  • Silner

    I think this is wrong Chris. TOR Adblock Disconnect all seem to work fine. How did you test this Chris?

  • http://technotroll.org/blablabla ufa

    Not true. Check torbutton

  • Pingback: HOWTO: Avoid online tracking (Hint: you can’t) | LandoftheFreeish.com()

  • John

    Hint: You can.

  • Pingback: Mr. Topp and the Big Bad Blog » This weekend coffee has plenty of animals()

  • http://www.abine.com/ rob s.

    Christopher: very nicely written article and correct on many counts and in your overall thesis: It is just plain hard to not get tracked online today.

    However, your understanding and description of the browser companies needing to have updated lists for users to block cookies or delete them is FALSE.

    Browsers are simply processors of html and other information and dutifully must show all cookies (and other tracking) somewhere in their communication with the sites visited.

    INCORRECT:
    Why It’s Doomed: One problem with deleting cookies from your browser is that you’re relying on the company that created your browser to have an up-to-date list of companies with cookies to block. If your browser is even a month old, there will be new companies and new cookies that don’t appear on the list, so they can’t be blocked. The only way to stay protected is to continually update to the newest browse

  • Jack Tripper

    This article misses some effective options:

    — Block all cookies and whitelist only the sites where you actually need them. I know the author dismisses this option, but if advertisers can’t place cookies, they have to rely on your IP address or browser fingerprint (see below)

    — Use ad blocking software
    — BetterPrivacy removes Flash cookies

    — NoScript blocks JavaScript and other code that can fingerprint your browser / computer. With NoScript alone my Panopticlick uniqueness is about 1 in 300. Not very effective for tracking among millions of internet users.

    — Ultimately, you could use anonymizing services, like Tor mentioned above. If your IP address is changing every 10 minutes (and is the same IP address as thousands of other users), the data that web sites / advertisers gather is pretty useless.

    The last option is pretty extreme, but if you *really* care about being tracked, you can in fact avoid it.

  • Pingback: Online behavior tracking | Analytics Team()

  • Pingback: Holes in Pockets to Get Bigger « BATSHITE()

  • http://www.google.com/ Sherlyn

    Hey, good to find smoenoe who agrees with me. GMTA.

  • Pingback: 77 Million People Affected by PlayStation Hack - Identity Theft 911 Blog()

Certain credit cards and other financial products mentioned in this and other articles on Credit.com News & Advice may also be offered through Credit.com product pages, and Credit.com will be compensated if our users apply for and ultimately sign up for any of these cards or products. However, this relationship does not result in any preferential editorial treatment.

Hello, Reader!

Thanks for checking out Credit.com. We hope you find the site and the journalism we produce useful. We wanted to take some time to tell you a bit about ourselves.

Our People

The Credit.com editorial team is staffed by a team of editors and reporters, each with many years of financial reporting experience. We’ve worked for places like the New York Times, American Banker, Frontline, TheStreet.com, Business Insider, ABC News, NBC News, CNBC and many others. We also employ a few freelancers and more than 50 contributors (these are typically subject matter experts from the worlds of finance, academia, politics, business and elsewhere).

Our Reporting

We take great pains to ensure that the articles, video and graphics you see on Credit.com are thoroughly reported and fact-checked. Each story is read by two separate editors, and we adhere to the highest editorial standards. We’re not perfect, however, and if you see something that you think is wrong, please email us at editorial team [at] credit [dot] com,

The Credit.com editorial team is committed to providing our readers and viewers with sound, well-reported and understandable information designed to inform and empower. We won’t tell you what to do. We will, however, do our best to explain the consequences of various actions, thereby arming you with the information you need to make decisions that are in your best interests. We also write about things relating to money and finance we think are interesting and want to share.

In addition to appearing on Credit.com, our articles are syndicated to dozens of other news sites. We have more than 100 partners, including MSN, ABC News, CBS News, Yahoo, Marketwatch, Scripps, Money Magazine and many others. This network operates similarly to the Associated Press or Reuters, except we focus almost exclusively on issues relating to personal finance. These are not advertorial or paid placements, rather we provide these articles to our partners in most cases for free. These relationships create more awareness of Credit.com in general and they result in more traffic to us as well.

Our Business Model

Credit.com’s journalism is largely supported by an e-commerce business model. Rather than rely on revenue from display ad impressions, Credit.com maintains a financial marketplace separate from its editorial pages. When someone navigates to those pages, and applies for a credit card, for example, Credit.com will get paid what is essentially a finder’s fee if that person ends up getting the card. That doesn’t mean, however, that our editorial decisions are informed by the products available in our marketplace. The editorial team chooses what to write about and how to write about it independently of the decisions and priorities of the business side of the company. In fact, we maintain a strict and important firewall between the editorial and business departments. Our mission as journalists is to serve the reader, not the advertiser. In that sense, we are no different from any other news organization that is supported by ad revenue.

Visitors to Credit.com are also able to register for a free Credit.com account, which gives them access to a tool called The Credit Report Card. This tool provides users with two free credit scores and a breakdown of the information in their Experian credit report, updated twice monthly. Again, this tool is entirely free, and we mention that frequently in our articles, because we think that it’s a good thing for users to have access to data like this. Separate from its educational value, there is also a business angle to the Credit Report Card. Registered users can be matched with products and services for which they are most likely to qualify. In other words, if you register and you find that your credit is less than stellar, Credit.com won’t recommend a high-end platinum credit card that requires an excellent credit score You’d likely get rejected, and that’s no good for you or Credit.com. You’d be no closer to getting a product you need, there’d be a wasted inquiry on your credit report, and Credit.com wouldn’t get paid. These are essentially what are commonly referred to as "targeted ads" in the world of the Internet. Despite all of this, however, even if you never apply for any product, the Credit Report Card will remain free, and none of this will impact how the editorial team reports on credit and credit scores.

Our Owners

Credit.com is owned by Progrexion Holdings Inc. which is the owner and administrator of a number of business related to credit and credit repair, including CreditRepair.com, and eFolks. In addition, Progrexion also provides services to Lexington Law Firm as a third party provider. Despite being owned by Progrexion, it is not the role of the Credit.com editorial team to advocate the use of the company’s other services. In articles, reporters may mention credit repair as an option, for example, but we’ll also be sure to note the various alternatives to that service. Furthermore, you may see ads for credit repair services on Credit.com, but the editorial team isn’t responsible for the creation or implementation of those ads, anymore than reporters for the New York Times or Washington Post are responsible for the ads on their sites.

Your Stories

Lastly, much of what we do is informed by our own experiences as well as the experiences of our readers. We want to tell your stories if you’re interested in sharing them. Please email us at story ideas [at] credit [dot] com with ideas or visit us on Facebook or Twitter.

Thanks for stopping by.

- The Credit.com Editorial Team