Advertising is a necessary evil of the internet. For the majority of sites, the way they can offer free content is thanks to the revenue generated from displaying ads to hopefully relevant products that you might want to buy. It gets creepy though when you search for something on one site, only to have ads for it then appear everywhere you go online. This is down to tracking technology employed by sites and advertising firms which hope you'll buy the product. There are ways to stop this invasive technique though, and we’ll show you the settings and apps to use if you want to keep your browsing private.
Opt out of personalised ads on Google apps
With Google being the main source of search results on the planet, it’s not surprising that ads follow suit. Thankfully, Google provides a way to turn off the tracking element at least. On a PC, go to your Google account by opening Chrome and clicking on your account icon in the top right corner and selecting Manage your Google account.
On smartphones and tablets open the Google app (or install it from the App store first) then tap the profile icon in the top right corner and select Manage your Google account.
On either platform you’ll need to select the Data & personalisation tab, then ensure that Ad personalisation is turned off.
With this done, all of your devices that are logged into your Google account should now stop using Google’s ad tracking feature. Of course, this isn’t the only tracker watching your online activities, as we’ll see.
How to block third-party cookies
One of the ways that internet advertising companies track you around the web is by putting cookies on your device. These aren't edible, sadly, but allow the site in question to remember things about your visit such as your preferred currency, and while they are an integral part of how the modern internet functions, you can stop them if you so desire.
In Chrome, open the menu by clicking or tapping on the three dots in the top right corner, then select Settings > Privacy and security > Site settings > Cookies and site data. In here you’ll find the option to Block third-party cookies. Enable this and you should have taken away another pillar of the tracking Pantheon.
The same settings should be available on other browsers, so find your way to the Privacy settings and you should see an equivalent option.
Just remember that the web will be a less convenient place once you've done this, but the trade-off could well be worth it.
How to enable Do Not Track on your browser
Most browsers provide the ability to send Do Not Track requests to websites when you visit them. While this is a useful feature to have turned on, it’s not one that has to be honoured by the site in question. Either way, we recommend you use it as an additional protection.
Open your browser and go to the Settings menu. On Chrome this is found by tapping on the three dots in the top right corner and selecting Settings. Most others follow the same method. Look for the privacy section then for an option to Send Do Not Track and enable it.
How to use Incognito mode in your browser
Another tool in your anti-tracking arsenal is to use Incognito or Private browsing modes on your browser of choice. To open a private window, tap the three dots in the top right corner of your browser then select the New Private Tab or similarly named option. Using this should prevent tracking, but if you do log into your social media or Google accounts then it may circumvent your anonymity.
How to use anti-tracking browser extensions
Adding a privacy extension or plug-in to your browser is another way to keep tracking at bay. There are plenty available, with Ghostery and Privacy Badger being two of the most popular. We have a roundup of the best Chrome extensions for more ideas on how to use these handy mini-apps.
Many of these also block the very ads that you don't want to see as well, but remember to support your favourite sites by whitelisting them in any ad-blockers - blocking the ads really does cost websites money.
How to use a secure browser
Some browsers put more of an onus on privacy and anti-tracking. One of the most popular is Firefox, which by default employs Enhanced Tracking Protection that stops websites monitoring your behaviour. If you want to browse in peace, then Firefox could go a long way to making that happen.
There are also browsers dedicated to privacy, such as Brave (which is based on Chrome) and the well-known Tor browser. Quite a few of the desktop extensions we mentioned are also available as mobile web browsers, including Ghostery. There's also DuckDuckGo, which you may only know as a privacy search engine, but its web browser is available for iOS and Android. Similarly, Firefox Focus is a privacy focused mobile browser.