The paranoid's survival guide, part 3: Opting out, and how to protect your personal data offline

How to just say no to direct mail and other 'offers'

1 2 Page 2
Page 2 of 2

Online behavioral advertising

The Digital Advertising Alliance's Ad Choices site and Network Advertising Initiative's Consumer Opt Out page both describe how interest-based advertising works and let you choose to opt out of behavioral online advertising and the online tracking associated with it. Go through the opt-out process on either site and your request will be honored by 118 ad agencies, ad networks and other DAA members.

When you visit these pages you'll see which DAA members are currently tracking you. From there you can selectively opt out, or click a button to opt out of interest-based advertising from all DAA members. When you opt out you will still see advertisements on the websites you visit, but you will no longer receive advertisements based on what the ad networks know about your Web activity -- and your activity online will no longer be tracked.

"The DAA Principles prohibit the collection of browsing behavior once a consumer has opted out, unless the entity requires that information for one of the DAA's limited exceptions, such as fraud prevention or ad reporting," says Mike Zaneis, senior vice president and general counsel with the Interactive Advertising Bureau, a trade group that represents publishers and ad sellers.

Offline privacy

There are some limitations to the process, however. During the opt-out process, the site places a cookie in your browser to maintain your preferences, and it prompts you to download a browser extension that will maintain your preferences even if you clear out the cookies in your browser. "We have made the easiest consumer experience possible given the current state of technology," Zaneis says. But because your preferences are tied to your browser, you'll need to go through the opt-out process for every browser on every computer you use.

And don't forget to set a calendar reminder when you're done: Your choice must be renewed every five years.

Alternately, you can achieve similar results by configuring your browser to block third-party cookies. Using an anti-tracking browser add-on has a similar effect. The difference is that you'll still receive non-targeted ads if you block third-party cookies, but you'll get nothing at all if you block tracking, since communication with the third-party ad networks is disrupted. (While you may not like them, those ads do pay for the free apps and content that Web publishers offer you.)

Online public records databases

Aggregators such as Intellius pull information from telephone directories, sex offender registries, court records, real estate transactions and other public data, combine it into a profile, and make the information about you available online -- both free, for people searches, and fee-based, for background checks. The data comes from many different sources, and it's not always combined correctly, which can lead to the dissemination of erroneous information about you -- particularly if you have a common name.

Some services, such as, let you claim your identity and update it online if you register with them. But you can also opt out of having your information listed. Security vendor Abine provides a list of opt-out pages for the most popular data-aggregation services, including Intellius.

Use a service to monitor what's out there about you

-- and remove it

It's time consuming to go to every data broker and opt out of having them list or share your name, address, telephone number and other personal information. Alternately, consider using a third-party service such as SafeShepherd, Reputation Defender or DeleteMe to monitor public databases and do the work for you. These fee- or subscription-based services ask to have your information removed, but then continue to watch to make sure your information doesn't pop up again as the data brokers continuously pull in new information.

It's not just about opting out, however, but also pushing down negative information in search-engine rankings by careful editing of your Facebook and LinkedIn profiles. "You have a right to determine what is out there about you," says Jules Polonetsky, executive director of the Future of Privacy Forum. "Shaping who you are and being seen on your terms, that's brand management for today's world."

This article, The paranoid's online survival guide, part 3: Opting out, and how to protect your personal data offline, was originally published at


Copyright © 2014 IDG Communications, Inc.

1 2 Page 2
Page 2 of 2
It’s time to break the ChatGPT habit
Shop Tech Products at Amazon