Have you ever wondered how online advertisers are able to deliver relevant ads as you go from site to site on products or services you were recently checking out? I did, but thought it was a strange coincidence until it happened one too many times. After hearing about something called “browser sniffing” it all made sense, in a disturbing sort of way. Here’s why it’s important you know about it too and how to avoid it.
It all started when I was looking for solar powered outdoor lights. This is a product that I’ve never bothered to look for previously, so it was a one-time search. Yet for several days after that search, I saw display ads for the very lights I reviewed on news and other types of Web pages. Hmmm, what a coincidence –not. It turns out that some sites are literally “sniffing” your browser history to see where you have been online and even what you searched for recently.
Armed with this information the online ad services are able to tailor online display advertising that zeros in on your recent show of interest. Sort of like the movie “Minority Report” where people walk past sign posters that scan their irises for ID and then deliver a totally customized advertising experience. It was creepy in the movie, and frankly I find this somewhat lower-tech version just as creepy.
There are two primary ways these sniffing sites are able to gather this information from your browser:
- Literally read your browser’s history file;
- Ascertain which links and URL’s you clicked on by seeing the change in link color (most sites have one color for hyperlinks that you clicked on, and another where you haven’t yet).
I’m not going to go into specific details of how to prevent the two methods above, simply because someone has already done that quite nicely. Just CLICK HERE
to review a recent article about how to prevent these kinds of privacy intrusions for both IE and Firefox browsers. A couple of words of caution however. One of the recommendations for avoiding something called “Link Color History Sniffing” (has to do with the different color links) will cause most of the Websites you visit to appear broken. DO NOT
follow the “Uncheck Allow pages to choose their own colors instead of my selections above.”, otherwise you may find most sites nearly unreadable. Also, if you turn off Adobe Flash Cookies, you may find many sites that depend upon Flash to not function properly either.
As far as I’m concerned it’s nobody’s damn business where I Web surfed and what I searched for. Follow the recommendations above and you may still what little privacy you have left online.