Personalized/Behavioral Web Ads Reaching New Levels

I am not sure if I am the only one, but it seems to me that recently, the level of personalization of ads you see on web pages has increased dramatically. I usually don’t pay much attention to the ads on the sides of articles, etc. However, lately for some reason I couldn’t help but noticing them because they attract my attention with very, the level of scary, specific content.

The latest example of such an ad showed up this morning while I was browsing the site of my local town newspaper, two of the following Flash-based ads showed up.

Network Solutions ad
Network solutions web ad personalized for me

Seeing advertisements for web hosting is quite normal if you’re an IT professional. What took me by surprise in this instance is that it actually included a domain name I had recently purchased through This ad wasn’t just Network Solutions soliciting web hosting business from IT professionals (as a category of individuals I belong to), it was Network Solutions soliciting business from me for the specific domain I own.

I am writing all of this because I have started thinking about some ways to avoid this level of knowledge ad brokers have about you.

  • The first thing that came to mind is that since August 2012, I’ve been using a different anti-malware program. I used to have Trend Micro Internet Security (*). It would run a weekly scan and every week, it would delete around 30 tracking cookies. No special configuration, no attention required. I didn’t really think much of it at the time, but I am now starting to appreciate it. I am considering returning to it.
  • Another avenue I will explore are the Do Not Track settings of the modern browsers. I tend to use IE 10 as well as Firefox 16 17 18, and both have settings for this (details here for IE and here for Firefox). This test page from Microsoft showed I had already turned it on in both, so it seems that CNN’s article about “Do Not Track is dying” may be accurate.
  • Besides those two ways to avoid being tracked, I recall using some browser plug-ins a long time ago that simply stopped the browser from showing ads in the first place (which would also avoid dropping most cookies). I am not up-to-date on the state of ad-blocking technology, but I think it’s about time I investigate the current crop a little closer.

(*): This is not a product endorsement for any Trend Micro product. Trend Micro has not provided any form of compensation for including their name or product features in this blog post.

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