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how to control your Google data and opt out of behavioral targeting ad networks

November 17, 2010

Today I learned a few useful things from an Ars Technica article entitled “What Google knows about you and how to tweak it” (nos. 1-4 below). I also discovered how to prevent over 60 ad networks from tracking my online behavior (see no. 5 ).

1) Google has a Privacy Center where you can access lots of good info. (Note: it’s not so easy to navigate back to the Privacy Center once you leave it.)

2) The Privacy Center has a link (in the left column) to your Dashboard, which is where you can review all of the information related to your many Google sub-accounts. For example, I discovered that I had a Buzz account. And that I had three followers, only two of whom I know. This pissed me off and is the kind of thing that spurred multiple lawsuits against Google. Those suits were bundled into one and Google agreed to a settlement in which it denies having “violated any law or caused any harm by the launch of Google Buzz”. Nonetheless, Google agreed to:

establish an $8.5 million Common Fund to fund organizations focused on Internet privacy policy or privacy education, as well as to cover lawyers’ fees and costs and other expenses. Google will also do more to educate users about the privacy aspects of Google Buzz. Since the inception of this litigation, Google has also made changes to Google Buzz that clarify its operation and users’ options, including, in particular, changes regarding user information and control over Buzz’s privacy settings.

Which probably has something to do with the timing of Ars Technica article and this post…

3) The Privacy center also has a link (right below the Dashboard link) to the Ads Preference Manager, where you can see the demographic breakdown that Google has created of your (online) life. You can delete any or all of these categories, or you can choose to opt-out entirely. You can also download a plug-in that will make your opt-out permanent.

4) The Privacy center has a link (right below the Ads Preference Manager link) to an Analytics Opt-Out page, which allows you to download an add-on that will prevent web sites from transmitting your information to Google’s Analytics tracking system.

5) This isn’t in the Ars Technica article, but you can go to the Network Advertising Initiative and modify your opt-out status for a long list (60+) of behavioral advertising firms. The site revealed that I had identifying cookies in a handful of these networks. You can choose to opt-out of individual networks or all of them at once. I chose the latter, but several of the networks reported that my opt-out was unsuccessful for unknown reasons.

Hope that’s helpful.

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