FTC report shows ways companies track consumers

Posted at 2:31 AM, Jan 26, 2017
and last updated 2017-01-26 02:31:40-05

Have you ever noticed the ads in your browser were a little too accurate to your interests, like they were tailored just for you? It's no coincidence. Most folks know companies use browser data for targeted ads, but now it appears turning off your "cookies" may not be enough to stop them from tracking you.

A new report from the Federal Trade Commission shows some of the ways advertisers can track your information across devices: from your phone to your laptop or tablet and back. One popular method involves asking the consumer to give their phone number to the cashier at checkout for a discount, or as part of a rewards program. The consumer's purchases are then tied to that number, and can be used to target ads to other accounts associated with the number online.

Companies also track consumers across devices through their log in. For instance, if a consumer is signed into an online shopping account on their phone and on their computer, a company can track purchases and use that data to send targeted ads on both devices.

You can read the entire FTC report for yourself here as a downloadable PDF.

Some organizations are now taking steps to help consumers learn who is tracking their activity, and even opt out of that tracking. One such group is the Digital Advertising Alliance. The group just updated its rules so that when a consumer "opts out" on one device, it applies to all other devices as well.

The Digital Advertising Alliance offers to search consumers' browsers for data on its "Consumer Choice page," providing a list of companies tracking their data and giving consumers the choice to "opt out." You can see for yourself who is tracking you here.