Limiting Your Online Footprint

After thirty-ish years living on this slow-dying planet with only a vague idea of what the stock market is or how to engage with it, I’ve finally decided to teach myself how to trade. While doing some basic research — like which online stockbroker to use, which stocks are blue chip, what ETFs are, how dividends are paid out — I read articles from a group of different sites for a few days. You’d think from the ads I’m now being served that I’ve become some kind of Aussie Wolf of Wall Street. Website after website have been serving me ads along the lines of “Don’t buy another share until you read this!!!” and similar breathless screeds from sites like the Motley Fool. Fast forward a couple of days. I’ve been browsing cat food, trying to find something hypoallergenic that isn’t soy pellets*. Now every ad I get involves cats in some way, which admittedly is an improvement because the photography is cute.

Here’s what I saw only just this morning when reading an unrelated article on The Atlantic, an American news site:

Programmatic ads know that I have a cat, that I’ve been dabbling in stocks, that I work in Burnley, and that I’m an expat. Never mind the FBI agent in your laptop meme, tech companies like Facebook and Google already know everything about you. If you like targeted ads — and sometimes targeted stuff, when crafted well and with a trustworthy message, do appeal to me — then move on from this article. If you think things are getting a little TOO creepy, read on.

Going Dark

Want to get rid of creepy programmatic stuff? It’s possible. “Wait, wait,” I hear you say. “You work in advertising — why the hell are you telling us how to get out of being advertised to? What’s your game?” I believe in targeted ads, sure, but I also believe in strategic ads. Ads that come across as too creepy, or that aren’t relevant, or worst of all — annoy the public — don’t work. Advertising online isn’t just a matter of slapping some images and text together and uploading them through the Facebook platform. As a representation of your brand online, they also need thought. At Starship, we routinely create targeted strategies for integrated digital campaigns that hit KPIs while being a solid ROI. Clients who go off into the advertising wilds by themselves without professional help often risk blowing their budgets on little return.

For everyone else frustrated by unwanted ads, here are things you can do right now to limit the ads that you get served:

  • The Do Not Call register is a secure register by the Aussie govt where you can register private/personal phone numbers. Advertisers who aren’t charities won’t therefore be permitted to call you (exceptions apply). You can report anyone who contravenes this — I have.
  • Reporting unsolicited SMS spam: You can report any sort of commercial SMS that is unwanted or unsolicited by forwarding it to 0429 999 888. You should then block the number. Sadly being on the Do Not Call register does not stop you from getting spam SMSes. It works: Service Seeking Pty Ltd was recently fined by the ACMA to the tune of $50k for SMS spam.
  • Using fully anonymous browsers like Tor to browse the internet: This will affect your net speed though.
  • Using VPNs like Private Internet Access to scramble your true IP address: This often gets me served hilarious mis-targeted ads. I tended to get a lot of USA voting ads this way.
  • Check your privacy settings on your favourite websites/social media. Many sites like Twitter etc will have options where you can limit your ad tracking.
  • Do a full Cookies etc clean as often as you can stand it.
  • Use encrypted messaging apps like WhatsApp.
  • Remove yourself off data broking sites.
  • Remove everything you’ve ever searched from Google. While you’re at it, you can also remove all your Location data.
  • Delete yourself off websites that you no longer use. Close old email accounts.
  • Limit ad tracking on your phones. There’d be an option to do this on iOS: Go to Settings – Privacy – Location Services – System Services.
  • Opt out of Ads Personalisation on Google.
  • Switch to Firefox: it’s much better with privacy, and highly customisable. It does seem to run hotter on my Macbook Pro than Chrome, and is iffy with Tweetdeck, but hopefully that’d all be fixed soon.

Let us know if there’s anything we’ve missed.


Article updated on Friday 14 June 2019.

*Note: Before you freak out that I’m killing my cat, hypoallergenic cat food is not actually 100% soy. It does contain chicken and taurine. It is a prescribed vet diet.

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