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Disconnect: See (and stop) who's tracking you online

Posting in Technology

The first time I saw an advertisement for products related to a previous Google search I felt more than a little uncomfortable. But with no knowledge about how to stop it I quickly gave in to this new Internet reality. Online, you're always being watched.

But now, thanks to the startup Disconnect, your web browsing can be more private. That's because this browser extension stops third parties and search engines from tracking the websites you go to and the searches you make. What's even more amazing is visualizing all the trackers that are following your every digital move (see the image to the right). And in addition to more privacy, the company claims, it also makes the user experience faster and safer.

The focus of the tool though is on advertising. Ever wonder how your Google search yesterday for a new rain jacket meant your Facebook page was filled with ads for outdoor and rain gear? That advertising strategy, known as retargeting, is what Disconnect aims to stop, the New York Times reports:

The Disconnect filter, which Brian Kennish, a former Google engineer, started building two years ago, is squarely aimed at controlling that kind of targeted advertising.

“We are stopping that flow of data as you bounce around the Web,” said Mr. Kennish, a company co-founder. “Third-party retargeters are not going to have information about you.”

It doesn't get rid of all advertising of course. You'll still see ads on website you visit, they just won't be the stalker-like ads from third party trackers. Also, websites you visit, like Amazon, can still track your browsing history on their site to offer recommended products.

If Disconnect catches on it could disrupt the digital advertising industry, which last year brought in a record $37 billion in revenue. Whether the industry will be able to continue to bring in that level of revenue with some consumers more actively protecting their privacy remains to be seen.

Start-Up Lets Users Track Who Tracks Them [New York Times]

Image: Disconnect

— By on April 18, 2013, 11:55 PM PST

Tyler Falk

Contributing Editor

Tyler Falk is a freelance journalist based in Washington, D.C. Previously, he was with Smart Growth America and Grist. He holds a degree from Goshen College. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure