Facebook and Yahoo Mail account holders, for instance, may be exposed to banners or other advertisements. Real-time analytics are run on who you are, the type of computer and operating system you use, the geographical proximity of your IP address, and other non-personal characteristics that paint a somewhat accurate picture, when combined with other cookies, on your likes and dislikes. When you buy a weed whacker on eBay, the cookie remembers. When you hover your mouse over an ad about a video, the cookie remembers. Every time you web surf and click link to link to link, cookies fade in and out of dominance.
It is hard to browse the graphical web without cookies — and nine times out of ten, they are harmless. BlueKai aggregates your shopping habits, Criteo tries to hone you back in when you don’t buy something, MediaMath‘s algorithms work behind the scenes of display ads.
But just because a cookie is in your computer collecting data on your browsing experience doesn’t mean its existence is necessary to browse.
The National Advertising Initiative was formed in 1999 and works cooperatively with third-party advertisers and the general public like you to raise awareness on what is being collected and stored by cookies. If you want to remove a cookie from your computer browser, click this link and opt out of whatever advertising networks you want.
When I clicked the link moments ago, the tool identified the cookies in my browser that matched the advertisers in its cooperative database and allowed me to select individual cookies or all cookies to stop recording my online movements.
After scrolling to the bottom of that page, I clicked the “Select All” button and then the “Submit” button. NAI then showed me a result page and then a confirmation page.
To be fair, the cookies were not removed but NAI inserted its own cookie to tell the other cookies I opted out. If I clear my browser cookies, I would need to run the program again. It might be something to consider, especially if you are paranoid about too many companies knowing about your browsing habits.