Does the average internet user know how much information is collected every time they surf the internet? Probably not. In fact, the staff at West Florida Components is pretty computer savvy and we were shocked to find out that despite our careful surfing habits and monitoring of the computers, we had cookies on all our company computers from 60 ad networks.
So, why is this important and what can be done?
For one, it’s a matter of personal privacy. While the tracking cookies from many web sites can be nothing more than a way to present you with products that may align with products from past purchases, there are other cookies from ad networks that track every site you visit. They aggregate that information and they sell it. Are you personally identified through those cookies? Theoretically, no, but the Wall Street Journal recently published an article about how one internet advertising company can tie a person’s email address to a profile about them and how they use that profile to target ads. What information was contained in the profile? Income, education level, marital status, political leanings, age, lifestyle interests, and gender. It is recommended reading, for sure.
You may argue that maybe people shouldn’t be visiting web sites that might not want to be tied to. That may be true, but what about computers that are shared among family members or in a work environment? Those can not be fully controlled yet the ad networks will still compile the information and sell it.
The Network Advertising Initiative has created a consumer opt-out tool which allows computer users to evaluate which advertising cookies are on their computer and remove them. In fact, it replaces the current cookie with an opt-out cookie that you will never have to replace, unless you routinely remove all cookies from your computer (and you should). The tool takes two clicks: one to ‘select all’ the cookies, and one to ‘submit’ to the removal process.
Opting out of a network doesn’t mean you will not receive advertising ads when you surf the internet. It means that the ad network from which you opted out will no longer deliver ads tailored to your Web preferences and usage patterns. Individual site cookies will still be placed – it’s the ad networks that will be rejected.
You still need to removed tracking cookies from your computer on a regular basis (then you should revisit the NAI site to replace the opt-out cookies), and keep your computers protected with firewalls and other software like adaware and anti-virus programs. This step is to help protect your privacy. Every little bit helps!