How To Get Rid Of The Ads That Follow You Around Online

Just because you once Googled "best diarrhea medicine" doesn't mean you want to be haunted by ads for it for the rest of your life.
Tassii via Getty Images

Many of us have accepted that if we look up any product or service online, advertisements for those brands will stalk us on whatever websites we go to later.

Most ads you can surely live with. Maybe you glanced at a Frisbee on a Target or Amazon website, and four weeks later, you’re still seeing Frisbee ads, never mind that your nephew’s birthday was two weeks ago and you bought some gift with Marvel or Pokémon in the title.

Being stalked by ads is a relatively minor problem — really more of a mild annoyance. But what about ads you really, really don’t want to follow you around, like those for hemorrhoid cream?

Maybe you share your computer or devices with your family, or your co-workers come into your office, and let’s say that you’ve had a bad week recently. Maybe you’d prefer everyone not notice that every website on your device is plastered with ads for diarrhea relief or head lice treatment.

How do you get rid of those types of ads?

Fortunately, you have options.

Enable the ‘do not track’ feature in your web browser.

“This feature sends a signal to the websites you visit that you would like to not be tracked. Some websites may ignore the request, but others may abide by it,” said Abdul Rahim, founder and CEO of the website Software Test Tips.

You should be able to find the “do not track” feature in your browser’s settings, although you may have to hunt around for it. For instance, in Chrome, it’s in Settings, and from there, you click onto Privacy and Security, and then go into Cookies and Other Site Data.

Use an ad blocker on your device.

“Ad blockers are programs that prevent ads from appearing on your screen by blocking the code that websites use to display them,” Rahim explained. “There are a variety of ad blockers available, both as browser extensions and stand-alone programs.”

Many ad blockers are free; some aren’t. There can be some downsides to them, such as ad blockers sometimes interfering with being able to navigate easily around a website. And, of course, many websites and blogs make money from ads. If everyone ues an ad blocker, in theory, advertising revenue will dry up for websites and there might be more paywalls, or fewer websites and blogs as they go out of business.

But if you truly hate ads, sure, it’s worth considering.

Use different browsers for different activities.

This is Rahim’s personal preference. He said he’ll use one browser for online shopping and another for social media.

“This way, you can configure each browser differently so that the tracking cookies used by various websites are stored separately,” he says.

Don’t use Google or Bing.

Yeah, yeah, we all love Google, and Bing has been getting a lot of buzz for its improved search engine.

But Sankar Gopinath, digital marketing manager at Rapyder Cloud Solutions, suggests not using some of the most popular search engines — at least if you’re buying products or services that you think might come back to haunt you in ads later.

“Try Google alternatives such as DuckDuckGo as your search engine. They do not track you to serve targeted ads,” he said.

Shop while using ‘incognito.’

Gopinath suggests this strategy, too. “Use incognito while shopping and doing searches in Google or Bing, or any search engine for that matter,” he said.

It’s also sometimes called “private browsing.” All of the big browsers have some version of this. For instance, with Safari, if you’re on your iPhone or iPad, you’ll look for an icon that looks like two squares on top of each other. Tap on that, and you’ll open a new tab. Then you select Private from the bottom left corner, which will open a Private tab. Finding the Private button is a little different if you’re on a Mac. You’ll have to select File from the top left corner of Safari and then press New Private Browsing.

With Chrome, look for the three vertical dots at the top right corner. The third item down should be New Incognito Window. Click on that, and you’re there.

The downsides to private browsing are that if you put stuff in your shopping cart, they won’t be saved for later. On the other hand, if you’re doing birthday shopping for your spouse or kids or somebody else, you’re not going to later have ads for those products pop up on your computer screen or device, possibly giving away what gifts they’ll be getting.

And, yeah, see? Being stalked by ads doesn’t always mean that you’re shopping for something embarrassing that you don’t want anybody else to see. You could be shopping to get somebody an awesome gift. You are so thoughtful.

Use the ‘panic button.’

Many browsers have panic button extensions that you can download — at least the main ones, like Microsoft Edge, Google Chrome and Firefox browsers.

As one extension creator for Firefox puts it, “Don’t want the boss to catch you surfing the web on company time? Don’t want your teacher, classmates, roommate or significant other to see the websites you’re viewing? With Panic Button, a single click of a toolbar button will quickly hide all Firefox browser windows and open a new window displaying a website of your choice — click the toolbar button again to bring back your browser windows.”

Granted, this is kind of off the topic of not wanting family or friends to see ads — you’ll be using the panic button to hide the entire website that you’re looking at. But, still, if you have a bunch of weird ads splashed on a webpage, or ads of gifts that you’ve purchased for a family member, and you’re in a full-blown panic, there is a button for that.

Delete cookies.

Just to review, for those who don’t remember what cookies are when it comes to websites, they are small pieces of data sent to your browser by the websites you visit.

Cookies allow websites to remember you. When you log in to a website, and your username and password is stored there, so you don’t have to type it all in, that’s due to a cookie. When you go to a shopping cart, and you have stuff in it that you looked at a couple of days ago, it stayed in your cart due to cookies.

“When you visit websites, you can choose to accept or decline cookies when there is an option to do so,” said Mihae Ahn, vice president of marketing at ProServe IT, a cloud and IT service provider.

“Some websites show you a text box at the bottom when you first visit them, giving you the option to accept or decline cookies,” she said. “Another way to clear cookies is to change settings. For example, if you use Chrome, open the browser, click the three dots at the top right, and click Privacy and Security. You will be able to clear all cookies or data from a specific site.”

But let’s get real. Most of us aren’t going to do this.

The final word on removing ads from your computer.

Actually, most of us probably won’t do any of what we just suggested. We’re online so much, and ads are often part of the experience, and if you have to work hard to avoid them, you’re probably going to throw up your hands and just use the internet the way you always have. But it should be nice to know that if you are shopping for products or a service that you’d rather keep private, you do have better options.

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