There are ways to help keep online Christmas shopping a secret. (Photo by THE ASSOCIATED PRESS)

Experts offer tips about how to prevent online ad spoilers during the holidays

Looking to prevent your Christmas surprises from being spoiled by online ads this holiday season? Here are a few tips from experts about how to keep your online shopping habits secret.

Turn off cookies

One way to prevent your loved ones from getting a digital peek at their Christmas presents is by clearing out the cookies — tiny text files that allow websites to log a user’s visits and activity — in your browser as you cross names off you gift list. Users can also adjust their settings in most browsers to prevent cookies from being stored altogether. But be warned: this will also get rid of personal information that’s stored to make filling out online forms more convenient, so be prepared to type out your full address every time you make a purchase.

Go incognito

Most internet browsers have a private mode that allow users to peruse the web without their history, cookies or site data being saved. Some companies have developed ways to track information even when users are browsing in private mode, said Vance Lockton, a strategic analyst at the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada, but this simple method should be enough to prevent most “reasonable” companies from revealing what’s in your online cart.

Opt out of targeted advertising

The Digital Advertising Alliance Of Canada, the industry’s self-regulating body, offers tools that allow users to opt out of being targeted with so-called behavioural advertising, including WebChoices (http://optout.aboutads.info) for your browser, and AppChoices (https://youradchoices.ca/appchoices/) for your mobile device.

On Google, users can select Ad Settings under My Account and turn off “ad personalization” with the flick of a switch. Users can also make changes to the data that is associated with their accounts, including deleting certain topics.

To manage your ad settings on Facebook, click the top-right corner of an ad and select “Why am I seeing this?” An information box should pop up with a link to “Manage your ad preferences.” From there, users can control what kinds of ads they’re shown on the social media platform and elsewhere through Facebook’s advertising service, and whether their social actions on Facebook, such as a liking a page, can be used for promotional purposes.

Go to the library — but don’t sign into social media

Companies can track your movements based on your IP address, a unique identifier for each computer using the internet, said Ramona Pringle, director of Ryerson University’s Innovation Studio, so if you don’t want your friends and relatives to know what’s inside the boxes underneath the Christmas tree, it’s probably safest to sign into a device you don’t use often, like the computers at your public library. Even then, Pringle said if you log into an online service that knows your identity, that activity can be linked back to you regardless of what browser or device you’re using, so resist the temptation to log onto social media while you’re shopping.

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