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What is AD tracking?

by Cyberguy | Last Updated | December 1, 2021
Cyber Dictionary|CyberSecurity - Consumer

Tracking user behavior has been used in market research for years. Collecting consumer insights and advertising performance has historically used studies and surveys. Today’s digital universe is now using new methods. Digital AD tracking is delivered in real-time, capturing continuous user behavior and maintaining large repositories of consumer patterns. It is sophisticated, highly prized, and anyone online is a participant. The big question is, at what cost?

How Ad Tracking Works

So what is online tracking?

Digital and online ad tracking is the process of gathering data and insights about the performance of online advertising campaigns. Digital systems use methods like cookies, unique tracking URLs, tracking pixels, and other tools so data about how people interact with their ad campaigns across the digital world can be measured. Advertisers and companies use this data to analyze and understand their markets and gain insight into their customers online habits and interests so they can optimize and target their advertising.

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So how are you tracked?

You might ask yourself, how come these ads seem to follow me around online. Have you ever wondered “why do I get ads related to my searches?”. Maybe you searched for or read an article about how to make a pie, and suddenly you started seeing ads for pie-making equipment everywhere. These new ads are the effect of online ad tracking.

Types of Ad Tracking

Companies like Facebook, Amazon, and Google track your online activity in several ways. The most common are advertising cookies. Cookies are small files saved and stored on your device and used by your web browser. Nearly all websites now use cookies to remember your device and its IP address so they know you have visited their site previously and use that to optimize any future visits. For many of us, this can be very helpful; for example, you want to log back into a site but don’t want to repeatedly re-enter all your login credentials.

How FB Pixel Tracking works

Many of the modern digital world’s conveniences, from storing previously selected items in your shopping cart to seeing weather forecasts for your town, is done because of cookies. But advertising cookies — usually belonging to an advertising company —also help businesses and advertisers gather insights about your activity in order to serve you more targeted ads.

But it’s not just cookies, companies can also track you based on your individual, unique device. Device fingerprinting uses your device’s unique characteristics and settings — such as your operating system, the web browser you use, your IP address, and so on — to identify your device among the ocean of other connected devices. This information is used to track your digital activity and target you with specific and even personalized campaigns.

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On mobile devices, like your phone, where browser cookies generally can’t be stored, unique device identifiers are used to monitor the different apps used on these devices. If your device connects to the internet, your activity on it can and will be tracked.

How Single Website Tracking work

Looking at the URL that is used to take you to a site will show you if you are being tracked. A standard URL of a website usually looks like this. With just the site a page name or post name showing.


Depending on the route you took to arrive at that website (for example, from an emailed link), the URL may look something like this:


The extra information in this URL, after the question mark, indicates you came to the site via a newsletter sent to your email The site then uses this information to optimize their newsletter to increase engagement and deliver you more personalized and targeted emails tailored to the preferences you have revealed through your online activities.

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So why do companies track you online?

There are many reasons companies track you online, many are actually well-intentioned. Tracking can be used to serve you better content, even just to display ads for items and topics you’re likely to be interested in, or present relevant or localized information like news or weather updates. Generally, this can be beneficial because it improves your online experience.

The downside is that online tracking underpins the online ad economy. Most free sites exist because they make money by selling ads. Successful ads are targeted.

How Websites Use Cookies

Tracking cookies and other tracking tools let companies determine which ads work the best and even the best places to place them, such as in other digital and email marketing campaigns. Cookies can be convenient for users because the information is contextually relevant to their interests, but it raises many digital privacy questions.

How Cross Website Ad Tracking works

There are downsides to online tracking techniques because they are often used by bad actors for wicked purposes. One highly used strategy is adware hidden in some freeware programs. Adware is the actual source of revenue for the freeware, so you may get that software for free but your device is inundated with ads and its performance often goes into the tank as a result.

In other cases, ads can be vehicles used to deliver malware in disguise. Beyond just malware and cybercrime, there is the broader issue of privacy. Because your information can be tracked and collected by many companies, your data is more vulnerable to exposure and theft, which could increase the chances of identity theft.

How do I stop ad tracking?

Fortunately, there are ways to stop ad tracking. One straightforward solution is to use a secure and private browser that removes any cookie crumbs you scatter as soon as you close the browser window.

Even with regular browsers like – Explore, Chrome, Firefox, etc., you can make your normal browsing more secure by regularly clearing your browser cookies.

When you first visit a website, take a moment to review the site’s default cookie or tracking settings rather than mindlessly clicking “accept.” You can manage these settings so that your activity becomes harder to track.

On mobile devices – particularly smartphones have simple ways to stop ad tracking. Android and iPhones have ad tracking enabled by default; fortunately, you can disable it in your settings. iPhone users can find the option in their Privacy Settings. Limiting ad tracking on Android phones is in the Advanced Privacy Settings.

Another technique is to turn off location services, as this will help prevent trackers from knowing your location and serving up ads based on that information. While these strategies help, they only limit ad tracking. Many of the quality antivirus/antimalware tools offer capabilities to defend against ad tracking tools. They can help keep navigating the internet personal and protect your privacy online.

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