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How to Take Your Data Back From Advertisers

Jason Sattler

06.10.17 4 min. read

To me, Cyber Security Awareness Month is about just doing a little bit more to protect your data. For most of us, that means getting the basics right. For business travelers, it means improving your OPSEC. For journalists and other high-value targets, cyber security awareness can mean totally locking your data down.

But there’s another element of cyber security literacy that almost everyone uses the web needs to consider — advertising. Online ads can literally serve you malware but it’s far more likely that it’s just trying to serve you some perfect distraction that will get you click and spend a little money. And we, often unwittingly, help advertisers get even better at hacking our brains by using free services.

“Nothing is free on the internet,” Mikko Hypponen — F-Secure’s Chief Research Officer — often says. “We pay with out data.”

And just imagine how much data they’ll be collecting about us as our connected homes fill up with dozens of “smart” things.

To get a sense of what three of the biggest ad-financed businesses online know about you, Sean Sullivan, F-Secure’s Security Advisor, advises you to take a tour of your ad preferences.

You may shocked by how much they know about you — or how off their data can be.


First check out Google’s ad preferences. They note what you like and what you’ve told Google you don’t like. Don’t like what you see there? You can opt out of personalized ads from Google and dozens of other ad services by visiting the Digital Advertising Alliance’s Webchoices site in a browser that has cookies activated.


Now check out the preferences of the second biggest ad seller on the web, Facebook. You can manage the information advertisers know about you in “Your Information” and limit your ad settings so that you don’t get ads based on sites and apps you use. You can also tell Facebook not to share your preferences for ads shown on other devices including your TV. There’s also an option to adjust your settings so your friends can’t see ads based on your social interactions, for instance, pages you like. Or you can leave all these options set to yes so that Facebook can monetize your private data more effectively. Your choice!


Twitter doesn’t sell nearly as many ads as Google or Facebook. But if you’re an active user of the site, Twitter probably knows more about you than many loved ones. Check out Twitter’s Personalization and Data section and you’ll see the site is also happy to use that data to “personalize” the ads you see based on your activity, apps, places you’ve been and track how you interact with “Twitter content across the web.” You can turn all this off and stop Twitter from personalizing to your devices and sharing your data with “partners.”

There you go. Now you’ve taken some data back. It’s a good start. But if you’re up for it…

There’s More You Can Do

Mikko recommends that you think about how you use your browsers if you haven’t already.

“One thing which is fairly easy to do and understand for normal users is that on your computer you can have different browsers for different things,” he told The Cyber Secret Futurist. “You can have Edge for Facebook. Then you have Chrome for Google services. But that means that Facebook, which would really like to profile which websites you visit – can’t because you use DuckDuckGo on Edge. With Chrome, you never log into Facebook so they never get your cookie. They can’t combine your life across different services.”

And even easier step then establishing hygienic browsing habits is taking your privacy into your own hands, or your own virtual private network.

“Another thing I recommend are VPNs, especially on your laptops that you travel with, especially on your tablets, on your smartphones,” Mikko said. “Especially when you’re connected to a WiFi. Without a VPN it’s very easy for websites to track you, and it’s easy for anyone else in the same WiFi to see everything you do and every website you visit. VPNs are fairly easy to use.”

Our F-Secure FREEDOME VPN blocks also unwanted third-party tracking that you often can’t easily opt-out of. Any you can try it as part of F-Secure TOTAL for free. But you want to keep it protecting your privacy in the long-term, you’ll have to pay — with your money, not your data.

[Image by HighwaysEngland | Flickr]


Jason Sattler

06.10.17 4 min. read


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