Thursday , 20 September 2018
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How Apple’s Safari browser can save your Christmas

While I see online ads as a necessary evil if you want to keep websites in business, I’m so annoyed at the way the latest ads services seem so focused on ruining everybody’s Christmas surprise.

The ads Grinch stole Christmas

This is what happens: Ads sites track where you go online; retailers track you too and all this information is shared. Look at an item online, see an ad for it on the next page you go to. Not only is this behavioural retargeting vastly creepy, but when it comes to Christmas these things make it impossible to keep secrets, particularly on a shared Mac. Been looking at [insert name of hot new obsessive teenage-focused product here] with a view to buying one to gift your child? Don’t be too upset if said child gets onto your computer to check their Bitcoin investment only to find themselves staring at ads for the object of their desire. Kids aren’t stupid – they know how ads work online (even if we don’t). What’s happened? Your Christmas surprise is spoiled and your teenager won’t believe in Santa Claus any more, even if they are looking for a flat Earth shadow during the next eclipse.

Apple doesn’t think much of ads tracking tech. Earlier this year it said: “Ad tracking technology has become so pervasive that it is possible for ad tracking companies to recreate the majority of a person’s web browsing history. This information is collected without permission and is used for ad re-targeting, which is how ads follow people around the internet.”

Behavioural retargeting relies on a combination of sophisticated technologies, including tracking codes in the form of cookies which sites use to figure out what you’ve been looking at and then summon a relevant ad on your next site. Sometimes these work for you as you may find you are offered a discount, get reminded of something you needed at a later date, that kind of thing. Much to the annoyance of some ads agencies, Apple’s Safari browser has a few tools which may help stop the ads networks taking the thrill out of your family Christmas. Most work with both iOS and macOS devices. Here are those tools and how to use them:

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