5 On Your Side

Somebody is watching your every Internet move

Posted June 7, 2011
Updated June 8, 2011

They flash, pop up and animate. But did you know that many Internet ads actually follow you?

"It's kind of spooky," Audrey Connell says.

Connell shops online a lot. Recently, she noticed after she searched for something that the next time she logged on, ads for that product and related items popped up.

"I went online looking at cars again, and a whole bunch of things kept coming up, and I'm like, 'Wow, kind of weird,' you know. How do they know?" Connell says.

It's called ad re-targeting. It even happened while we were interviewing Connell. She recently searched e-readers, and an ad for a Kindle popped up.

"It just seems like it's very easy, or too easy, for these sites to just throw those ads up there and know your every move that you have on a computer," Connell says.

It's almost like constant surveillance.

Internet ads Somebody is watching your every Internet move

Duke University Chief Information Security Officer Richard Biever told us how it works.

He says when you go to a website, a "cookie," or file that tracks you, is placed on your computer. Some cookies are from the website itself. Others are from advertisers that continue to follow you.

"As they build up information, they can then target specific ads to you, based on the websites that you visit," Biever says.

If you use a free email account or social media, like Facebook, your emails and your posts are followed. On Facebook, even a status update can prompt an ad.

"These companies are not out there to do, you know, just for the goodness of their heart. They're out there to make money, and the way they make money is through advertising," Biever explains.

Biever showed us how quickly it happens with a visit to CNN's website.

"We have an ad over here. And then we have a whole bunch of information. There's an ad," Biever says as he pointed to the side and bottom of the Web page. "If I hover the mouse over it, if I look down here, I see the link of where it would go," Biever shows.

How do you get rid of the ads? Biever activated an ad blocking program.

"That is now gone. That's gone. There's your blank space. And now we just have TV listings," said Biever as he again pointed to the side and bottom of the Web page. "We don't have ads."

Biever says all cookies aren't necessarily bad. We just need to be aware that it's happening, and control access we don't want. "You, in effect, are trusting that the sites that you go to are acting in your best interest. They are not. They are acting in their best interest and their best interest is they have to make money," Biever explains.

"Somebody's watching me, and everything that I'm doing," Connell laughs.

A step by step guide to ad-blocking:

Google Chrome:

To Install Adblock (Prevents ads from being displayed in your browser):

  1. Open Google Chrome and point your browser to: https://chrome.google.com/.
  2. In the Search box (top right corner) type in "Adblock Plus" (without the quotes).
  3. Click on the icon for "Adblock Plus for Google Chrome (Beta)". It is Free.
  4. On the next page, click on the Install button.
  5. You should have a message at the top of your browser window stating that Adblock Plus for Google Chrome (Beta) is now installed.

To Install Web of Trust (Web of Trust is a safe browsing tool, which warns you about risky sites that cheat customers, deliver malware or send spam.):

  1. Open Google Chrome and point your browser to: https://chrome.google.com/.
  2. In the Search box (top right corner) type in "WOT" (without the quotes).
  3. Click on the icon for "WOT". It is Free.
  4. On the next page, click on the Install button.
  5. You should have a message at the top of your browser window stating that WOT is now installed.

To Change Preferences in Google Chrome:

  1. Click on the wrench icon on the right side of the browser.
  2. Click on the "Preferences" item in the menu.
  3. On the right side of the browser screen, click on Under the Hood.
  4. Click on "Content Settings" button in the Privacy Section.
  5. Enable the following settings if different:

Cookies: Allow local data to be set (recommended) and check "Ignore exceptions and block third part cookies from being set."
Pop-ups: Do Not allow any site to show pop-ups (recommended)
Location: Do not allow any site to track my physical location
 

Firefox 4.0:

To Install Adblock (Prevents ads from being displayed in your browser):

  1. Open Firefox and go to your Tools menu.
  2. Select the Add-Ons menu item.
  3. Select the Get Add-ons button on the left side.
  4. In the Search box (top right corner) type in "Adblock Plus" (without the quotes).
  5. Look for Adblock Plus 1.3.7 (version number may be slightly different) and click on the Install button.
  6. Click on the restart link to restart Firefox and enable Adblock Plus.

To Install Web of Trust (Web of Trust is a safe browsing tool, which warns you about risky sites that cheat customers, deliver malware or send spam.)

  1. Open Firefox and go to your Tools menu.
  2. Select the Add-Ons menu item.
  3. Select the Get Add-ons button on the left side.
  4. In the Search box (top right corner) type in "WOT" (without the quotes).
  5. Look for Web of Trust - Safe Browsing Tool and click on the Install button.
  6. Click on the restart link to restart Firefox and enable WOT.

To Change Preferences in Firefox 4:

  1. Find Preferences in your Firefox menu items (Usually under the Firefox menu on a Mac, Tools -> Options on Firefox 3.6 for Windows, and the Firefox button in the top left corner of Firefox 4 for Windows and go to Options).
  2. Click on the "Privacy" item in the window.
  3. You can set up your History settings how you like, just be aware that you are telling Firefox to remember sites you visit, files you download, and information that you put in search fields and form fields.
  4. Enable the following settings if different:
  5. Click on Show Cookies to see what cookies are stored on your computer and delete the ones you think you don't need (think "ad").
  6. Click on the "Security" item in the window.
  7. Ensure that the following items are checked:
  • Warn me when sites try to install add-ons
  • Block reported attack sites
  • Block reported web forgeries

Internet Explorer 9:

 

To turn on Tracking Protection (Prevents ads from being displayed in your browser):

 

  1. Open Internet Explorer and click on the gear icon on the right side of the browser.
  2. Select "Manage Add-ons"
  3. In the "Add-on Types" column, page down and select "Tracking Protection."
  4. Click on "Get a Tracking Protection List online..."
  5. When the new window opens, click on the Add Button by "EasyPrivacy Tracking Protection List"
  6. Close the window, and close the "Manage Add-ons" window.
  7. If you want to verify that the list installed, click on the gear icon and follow steps 2-3 to see if the list installed correctly. EasyList should be showing as Enabled.

 

 

To Install Web of Trust (Web of Trust is a safe browsing tool, which warns you about risky sites that cheat customers, deliver malware or send spam.):

 

 

 

  1. Open Internet Explorer and point your browser to: http://www.mywot.com/en/download/ie.
  2. Click on the "Free Download for IE" button.
  3. When prompted, click on the "Run" button.
  4. Follow the instructions to install WOT.
  5. When prompted, click on the "Enable" button at the bottom of the browser.

To Change Preferences in Internet Explorer:

  1. Click on the gear icon on the right side of the browser.
  2. Click on the "Internet Options" item in the menu.
  3. Click on the "Privacy Tab".
  4. IE 9 has a default setting of "Medium." If you want something more in line with the settings for Firefox/Chrome:
  5. Click on the "Advanced" button.
  6. Click on "Override automatic cookie handling."
  7. Click on "Block" under "Third-party Cookies."
  8. Click "OK", "OK"
10 Comments

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  • froggygirl Jun 14, 2011

    Common sense goes a long way. Porn, games, and pharmacy sites are trouble waiting to happen. Pseudonym's advice is good.

  • busyb97 Jun 10, 2011

    Just because something is FREE , doesn't mean it is better or sufficient. Do your homework on products- especially the free ones. "you get what you pay for". There are some goods ones, but there are some that may be leaving you vulnerable too. Do you think the bad-guys know how to write an anti-virus program and then put it out their for Free hoping someone comes along and installs it. No, I'm not a paranoid conspiracy theorist, but just asking....

    Ads are annoying. Do these marketers REALLY make that much money at it? I don't know that I've EVER clicked on an ad - maybe 2 times in my "internet life". With all the crazy stuff out there, you never know what you are going to get attached to your computer.

    It's really creepy when you go to a site and the ad pinpoints down to your town! Really don't like that.

  • jkca Jun 9, 2011

    Kaperski Antivirul software is effective and the computer doesn't take forever to start up.

  • solarflare40 Jun 9, 2011

    they are pretty disappointed with me then...

  • Pseudonym Jun 9, 2011

    One more thing: Make sure you back up anything you don't want to lose.

  • Pseudonym Jun 9, 2011

    Quote from superman: "Just purchase Norton 360..."

    Any Norton product is HORRIBLE. It will eat up CPU cycles and memory allocation like crazy, slowing your computer down. It will also be a pain to install any kind of new software. A better solution is just to fix it when you get a virus. Free tools such as MalwareBytes, SpyBot Search and Destroy, and Lavasoft AdAware are much, much better. Key word here is FREE. I've never found a decent anti-virus solution that costs money.

    The best defense is preventive maintenance: stay away from porn, file-sharing, and bittorrent sites. Also limit social media.

  • Hater like Darth Vader Jun 8, 2011

    I guess WRAL isn't into Internet Explorer. It's also ironic that they sell a ridiculous amount of space to Google Ads on their own website and then tell you how to block it.

  • superman Jun 7, 2011

    Just purchase Norton 360-- then you dont have to worry about any of them. If you buy anything off the internet-- use pay pal. Everytime you give your credit card number on the internet you have a good chance that it will end up in the wrong hands.

  • heelsrule Jun 7, 2011

    What if you don't use Foxfire or Chrome?

  • turkeydance Jun 7, 2011

    works for WRAL too