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How to stop ads from stalking you around the Internet

Q: Whenever I go shopping online, whatever I look at seems to follow me around the Internet. How do I keep that from happening?

The process used to accomplish what a lot of people refer to as “creepy stalker advertising” is known as remarketing or behavioral retargeting.

What started as a way to encourage shoppers to come back to an e-commerce site when they abandoned an online shopping cart has now turned into a system that tries to stay in front of website visitors wherever they go.

The reason that an advertiser seems to be following you around is because they placed a cookie on your computer when you were visiting their site. The use of cookies, which are small text files that help advertisers track your online behavior, are nothing new and remarketing companies are just the latest to make use of them.

Targeted advertising can be more useful to us as consumers but it can also get annoying, especially if you’ve already purchased the item.

Clearing out your cookies after each browsing session will eliminate the ads in future sessions, but it can also remove some conveniences that you may actually want. Cookies are widely used to eliminate the need to sign in every time you visit your favorite websites or have to type in repetitive information, such as your address, into online forms.

The industry attempted to introduce “do not track” technology into the mix years ago, but it’s such a loose set of rules that it’s basically useless when it comes to remarketing ads.

On a temporary basis, whenever you do any online shopping, opening a private browsing session will ensure that the cookies from that session are not stored when you’re finished. Users of Internet Explorer or Firefox can open a private browsing session by pressing Ctrl+Shift+P from within the browser. Users of Chrome can open an incognito session by pressing Ctrl+Shift+N from within the browser. Mac users of Safari can open a private browsing session by pressing Command+Shift+N from within the browser.

A more pervasive solution can be used if you have any sort of a Google account, because Google operates one of the largest advertising networks online.

Sign into your Google account, go to google.com/settings/ads and scroll down to the opt-out settings.

You will have two options for opting out of ads: “Opt out of interest-based ads on Google” and “Opt out of interest-based Google ads across the web.”

Another resource that can alert various advertising networks to your preference to not see behavioral ads is the Network Advertising Initiative’s Consumer Opt-Out page. You will need to visit the site with each of the browsers you use so they can place opt-out cookies on your computer.

This also means that if your cookies are ever deleted, your opt-out preference will also be gone, so you’ll need to revisit the site to turn off the behavioral targeting.

Users of Firefox can block virtually all ads with the free NoScripts add-on, but I don’t recommend this option unless you are fairly tech-savvy.