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CHIPS Articles: Online tracking — more than cookies

Online tracking — more than cookies
By Lisa Weintraub Schifferle, Attorney, FTC, Division of Consumer & Business Education - July-September 2016
Wondering why you keep getting online ads targeted to you? Then, check out the FTC’s updated guidance on online tracking. It describes different methods of tracking, how they work, and how you can control them.

How do websites remember you? For years, the answer has been by using “cookies” — pieces of information saved by your web browser, then used to remember you and customize your browsing experience.

Now, it’s about more than cookies. Without using cookies, companies can use “device fingerprinting” to track you, based on your browser’s unique configurations and settings. Plus, mobile app developers can use “device identifiers” to monitor different applications used on your device. Tracking can also occur on smart devices, like smart TVs.

How can you control online tracking? Here are some ways to get started:

Delete or limit cookies. Check your browser’s settings for tools under Help, Tools, Options or Privacy.

Reset identifiers on your mobile devices. That makes it harder to associate your device with your past activity. iOS users can do this by following Settings > Privacy > Advertising > Reset Advertising Identifier. For Android, the path is Google settings > Ads > Reset advertising ID. Remember that this will only prevent tracking based on past activity — it won’t prevent tracking going forward.

Learn about tracker blockers. There are tools that allow you to block ads called tracker blockers. They prevent companies from using cookies or fingerprinting to track your internet behavior.

To find tracker blocking plug-ins, type “tracker blocker” in your search engine. Then, compare features to decide which tracker blocker is best for you.

Want to learn more about safeguarding your information online? Check out the FTC’s advice on computer security, protecting your personal information, and limiting unwanted calls, mail and email.

Original publication from Federal Trade Commission Consumer Information, go to for assistance.

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