My column this week for 24Hrs: Treat online ad tracking like stalking

Recently, I shared some new plans for a full-on fitness rehab with my friends on Facebook — happy to be able to get back into it after resolving some health issues. Strangely enough, it wasn’t long before the advertising I was seeing completely changed as well. Ads to “Blast your belly fat!” and for Nike runners, and a plethora of other fitness-related advertising, had taken over.

Coincidence? Or had something I posted, viewed or even searched somewhere else give advertisers a heads up to my new fitness regime?

Frankly, I’ve had enough. The online tracking that allows companies to follow your movements over the web is getting downright creepy and intrusive – and it needs to stop.

I’ve never been a fan of advertising, regardless if it’s the incredibly long commercials during Life Below Zero or the thick stack of flyers in my local newspaper. The reality is that it’s the very advertising you and I often find annoying that keeps a lot of printed and online content free. Without a doubt, advertising is here to stay as long as you want to keep reading the paper or view anything online without paying.

But there is a big difference in seeing a regular banner ad in the local online paper, and having specific ads targeting you, your habits and activities seemingly stalk you all over the Internet.

Earlier this year, a complaint was made to the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada by a man who began seeing targeted ads for a specific medical condition he had searched on Google Canada – sleep apnea.

His harmless – and seemingly private – search for a device to help with his apnea resulted in targeted ads for his apnea showing up on other sites he visited after. Following a full investigation, it was revealed that Google had indeed violated Canada’s privacy laws with this targeted advertising.

Read Brent Stafford’s response here.

The problem is that even though companies must adhere to privacy laws and quidelines, getting them all to comply, and enforcing it, is an onerous task. While programs like AdBlock can give users relief from online ads and tracking, those without it are left with limited options to stop the advertising creepers….

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3 thoughts on “My column this week for 24Hrs: Treat online ad tracking like stalking

  1. I got frustrated with all the tracking a while ago and found a way to cause the trackers problems following us.
    There are several ways to do this. Using encrypted net access or proxy servers could work but are complex to set up I settled on one that uses a different IP address each time one goes out on the net. A couple of ones to look at are I2P and Tor Browser bundle I went with Tor as it seemed easier to set up and an opportunity do a few other things. Occasionally some problems accessing sites but relative freedom from popups and annoying ads is nice. To the best of my knowledge the NSA and friends find it difficult to keep a consistent track on people using this system although they can with a determined enough effort track a few users of the bundle.


  2. Surf with one we browser with cookies off and other for when needed for certain keep it clear use different browsers for each.check privacy settings and also clear cookies often .


  3. I agree. But for a different reason. The targeted ads indicate that I can be targeted. Like most do, I usually just ignore the damn things. But occasionally an ad comes up inaccurately targeting me and I wonder why they think I am interested in what they are sending me. If they can make that mistake, what happens when they share my information with Homeland Security or CSIS? Is there not the same possibility that a mistake will be made and my front door will be kicked in, I am tasered and beaten and taken to a ‘holding’ centre? Ads are annoying. Police are dangerous. BIG difference.


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