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:
Apple is using machine learning in Safari to tell the difference between the website cookies you want to keep, and those you would prefer to lose. Unwanted cookies are blocked from third-party use after a day and deleted after a month.
Stop cross site tracking
The first port of call you should check if you want to stop the scourge of behavioural retargeting ads are Apple’s two tools that have been created specifically to help reduce cross-site tracking. You can access these on both Mac and iOS devices.
- On a Mac: Open SafariPreferencesPrivacy and check Prevent cross-site tracking and Ask Websites not to track me.
- On iOS: Open SettingsSafari and toggle Prevent cross-site tracking and Ask Websites not to track me to green to enable them.
Use Private mode
One way to make sure your children can’t figure out what you’ve been thinking about buying them this season is to do your shopping in Safari’s Private mode.
- On a Mac: Open a new Private window in FileNew Private Window or by pressing Command-Shift-N.
- On iOS: Tap and hold the top right icon you use to take a look at all your open tabs in carousel mode. Choose New Private Tab. Or tap the same icon and choose ‘Private’ in the next window.
Private mode stops you collecting website cookies.
The nuclear option is to use an ads blocker when you browse. Apple lets you install ads blockers in Safari, though don’t forget to whitelist those websites you like to read the most as ads are what keeps those sites alive.
- On iOS, Crystal is one of the best ads blockers you’ll find as it is easy to use and also makes it very easy to set white lists to enable an income for your favourite sites.
- On a Mac, you access ads blockers in Safari’s Extensions collection at the app store. (Choose Safari Extensions in the Safari menu).
Use Reader mode
Apple now lets you choose to automatically access some websites in Safari’s trimmed down Reader Mode, when using a Mac.
- On a Mac: Safari PreferencesWebsitesReader. I this section you can set sites to open automatically in Reader mode – this isn’t always appropriate as you may not get all the benefits the site provides in this mode. You can toggle in and out of Reader mode using Shift-Command-R.
Turn off cookies
You can stop your browser accepting any cookies. The difficulty with this approach is that websites you visit frequently or use passwords to access will be more difficult to use – some won’t work unless your browser accepts cookies.
- On a Mac: Safari PreferencesPrivacycheck Block all cookies.
- On iOS: SettingsSafariBlock All Cookies.
Block pop-up windows
You can also block annoying pop-up windows on websites.
- On a Mac: Safari PreferenceSecuritycheck Block pop-up windows
- On iOS: SettingsSafariBlock Pop-ups.
Those are just a few suggestions to help make sure you keep your surprises to yourself this season. Got more suggestions? Let me know!
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