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Cookies, Ads & Pop-Ups, Oh My!

You’re in the middle of researching a topic, let’s say you need to buy a new car…. In Albuquerque, it could be because yours was just stolen, like my husband’s was two months ago, but I digress.

You’ve researched the car you want, Googling away on your computer, but now car, truck and van ads are following you everywhere you go, long after you’ve stopped your searching.

How does that work, why does that happen and what can you do about it.

When you visit a website that company attaches a “cookie”, which most people are familiar with now, but just in case you are not, a cookie is a snippet of code that identifies you and follows you around the internet based on your searches. Advertisers pay to have their ads follow the cookies that match their product offering and their ad appears in your future searches or you start getting pop-ups related to the topic. They call this re-targeting. But there’s more…. With all the information out there in cyberspace and elsewhere, advertisers are combining your on-line search information with offline information. This is referred to as “dynamic creative ads”. Yikes!

Why don’t these pop-ups and ads go away when you leave the site or close your web browser? Because computers use “Caching” technology. Caching technology is a feature of modern web browsers that stores parts of a website that repeat the most often, that way you do not have to load the webpage from scratch every time you visit. This is very useful for decreasing the time for the webpage to load, as many webpages have core pieces that are always the same. This is very similar to CPU caching, where your central processing unit (CPU,) will store data you access frequently for faster recall. For all the benefits we receive from caching, however, there is a downside. Often, websites can use the caching feature, combined with “cookies” to make sure that they are able to track your data when accessing that website. This can be concerning for people who do not want their data tracked, and the cache can lead to issues with the website loading (because sometimes the cached data is out of data or corrupted.)

Have no fear, there are easy fixes for this. Depending upon what web browser you use you can opt to search on line anonymously.

Google Chrome – Incognito Mode is the name of the browser setting that prevents long term caching and cookie tracking. You can activate this by clicking the three dots in the upper left hand corner of the browser and opening a “New Incognito Window”. Any browsing done in this window will only load cookies and cache for the duration of browsing. When it is closed, the browser clears all that temporary data. It is worth it to note that your history will not be saved as well, so if you try to go back and find a site you visited later, it will not be in your browser history.

Mozilla Firefox – Like Google Chrome, you can click the three lines in the top right corner and open a “Private Window” which will enable private browsing.

Internet Explorer – For Internet Explorer, there is an additional step. Click the gear in the upper right corner of the browser, then hover your mouse pointer over “Safety”. One of the options listed will be “InPrivate Browsing”. Click that and it will open a private window.

Microsoft Edge – Click the three dots in the upper right corner and simply click “InPrivate Window”.

Additionally, you can clear your past search history, cache and cookies. Again, this is a little different for each web browser, but they all have this feature.

Google Chrome – Click the three dots in the top right, and hover over “History”. Click the “History/View History” that pops out. On the right side of the page, there will be a clear browsing history option. Click it, and a window will open asking how far back and to what extent you would like to clear the history, cache, and cookies.

Mozilla Firefox – Click the Firefox icon in the top left corner. There should be a history tab. Click that and the history page should pop up. From there, you can clear the history just like Chrome.

Internet Explorer – Click the Gear icon in the top right corner, then click “Internet Options”. In the window that opens, a little more than halfway down the page will be an option to delete your history.

Microsoft Edge – Click the three dots in the top right corner, and select “Settings”. You will see an option to clear browsing data. Click that and choose how much and how far back you want to clear.

Wishing you safe and Happy Googling, Searching & Browsing!