Personalized advertising - how to protect your own data

Personalized advertising - how to protect your own data

Although the Internet brings many conveniences, many people are not aware that every click leaves traces. These are used for personalized advertising. Personalized advertising displays ads that match the user's behavior. This is also the reason why after a certain search or even after a conversation, ads are displayed that relate to the content of the search or conversation. We explain what's behind personalized advertising, how to avoid it, and why you should avoid it in the first place.

What is personalized advertising? How it works

Personalized advertising is based on so-called advertising tracking technologies. These include tracking tools such as cookies (What are cookies?), pixels, and other technologies that various companies, websites, and apps use to collect data. Once enough information has been collected, a detailed profile of the user can be created. On this basis, personalized advertising is displayed that corresponds to the user's behavior. Among other things, data is collected as part of the following activities and from the following sources:

  • Cookies: Small text files that websites save on the device and store information about login data and settings. These are used by advertising companies to track browsing behavior across multiple pages.
  • Pixel tags: Graphics embedded in emails and web pages that send information to the advertiser when they are displayed or clicked.
  • Social media activity: Social media platforms such as Facebook or Instagram can track your activities and play out personalized advertising accordingly.
  • Shopping behavior: Online stores can track your shopping behavior and see, for example, which products you look at, buy or add to your shopping cart.
  • App usage: Many apps collect data about how you use them and may sell that data to third parties.

· Location data: Apps and other services sometimes use location data and display personalized advertising that matches it.

This is why advertising tracking or personalized advertising is problematic

At first glance, there seems to be nothing wrong with advertising tracking. After all, this ensures that users are shown ads that are relevant to them - in other words, personalized advertising. If you take a closer look at the subject, however, it quickly becomes clear that data collection raises serious questions about data protection. Everyone should have the right to remain "invisible" online. In addition, everyone should be able to decide for themselves what is disclosed on the Internet and what is not.

And although the companies that collect user data mean no harm by doing so, the data they collect still poses a threat if it falls into the wrong hands - a good example of this is the biggest hacking attacks, in which sensitive user data repeatedly fell into the hands of cybercriminals. In the worst case, criminals misuse them to commit fraud or identity theft. In this respect, it is in the interest of every individual to think about their own use of media and to take steps to protect their own data and avoid personalized advertising.

Turn off or deactivate personalized advertising – these measures should be taken

It must be said at the outset that protection against personalized advertising is not done with a single click - rather, there are various measures that can be taken to ensure improved data security. The most common of these are presented below.

Ad blockers are software or browser extensions that block advertisements and trackers. When a website is clicked, it often runs programs or scripts that monitor user behavior. Ad blockers detect and block them before they are loaded. We recommend uBlock Origin - it can be easily installed as an extension in the web browser.

Another measure is a conscious use of cookies. Meanwhile, everyone knows the often annoying pop-up that opens when visiting a website. This is due to the decisions of the EU GDPR. This stipulates that website operators must obtain consent for the use of personal data of visitors and inform them about what kind of data is collected and what it is used for. This regulation applies not only to operators from the EU, but also to operators whose side sells products or services to EU member states or collects data about their citizens. In order to avoid personalized advertising, it is necessary to reject unnecessary cookies such as advertising cookies and analysis cookies.

It is also important to use an anonymous search engine. Popular search engines such as Google store search queries and use them to display personalized advertising to users. Search engines without tracking display search results, but do not modify the results based on previous searches.

Other measures to avoid personalized advertising

Users can also browse anonymously with a VPN. A VPN (Virtual Private Network) hides the real IP address and encrypts the data traffic, so that not even the Internet provider can see which websites have been visited.  It is recommended to choose a trusted provider that does not store logs of activity. A VPN not only protects against personalized advertising, but also provides overall security while browsing.

Lastly, operating systems like Windows and Android have separate privacy settings that can be customized. Here, for example, users can prohibit or allow apps to display ads based on app activity. If personalized ads are to be avoided, the option should of course be off.

It is the responsibility of each individual to take care of the security of their own data. A lot can be achieved here with a few simple steps. User data is becoming increasingly important in the increasingly digitalized world, and should be protected accordingly.