Very few people are aware that as you browse the web, hopping from site to site, tiny little chunks o' data are placed on your computer that allow all sorts of tracking of your activity - where you've visited, what you have viewed, and so on.
One of the up-and-coming online trends is behavioral advertising, where marketing and media companies use these little data files, also known as cookies, to target the advertising you see based on your browsing habits.
Global regulators and privacy organizations are rapidly moving to curtail some of the most onerous of these practices, but laws and regulations vary from country to country, and in the US, from state to state.
So far, the best consumer protection has been awareness. Once you know, you can take steps to block these cookies from being placed and/or read from your computer.
The Network Advertising Initiative has a site that allows you to review the various member companies engaged in behavioral advertising and to alert you to which of them you've already opted out. There's a little radio button you can click to opt out of the ones you haven't already.
Problem is, these opt outs or blocks are usually erased when you clear your history and cookies in your browser. If you clear your cookies, history, and cache regularly, you may want to consider installing one of the browser-based cookie blockers, like TACO for Firefox. Google, Yahoo, and many other search behemoths also offer cookie opt out programs.
If you don't mind these folks knowing where you visit, and you prefer advertising that's tailored to your interests, then by all means, don't do anything. For everyone else, take proper steps.
If you have any questions, drop me a note at RedGeckoBlog@gmail.com
Network Advertising Initiative Opt Outs