3OYS: Online ads could be spoiling Christmas secrets

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By Tami Hoey By Tami Hoey

PHOENIX -- Have you done any Christmas shopping online? Well, even if you didn't buy anything, just browsing might have been a mistake, and could spoil some surprises.

“Oh there it is, the Holy Grail of Christmas gifts, the Red Ryder 200 shot range model air rifle."
The magic of Christmas comes to life for Ralphie in the 1983 Hollywood classic, a Christmas story. And these days, surprise gifts still make Christmas magical. But, my, how things have changed.

For instance, just using the Internet to look for gift ideas can spoil it all. "It’s real easy to kind of tip your hand if you're trying to get a surprise gift for friends and family," says Ken Colburn,  computer and technology expert with Data Doctors.

He says when you use your computer to search for or buy gifts your entire cover can be blown if everyone in the house shares the same computer.

"You need to beware of something called re-targeting basically those ads that seem to follow you around the internet you visit the site of a particular product and all of a sudden you see that ad appearing no matter where you're going on the internet."

Here's how it works. Let's say you check out a Christmas item to buy online, like Ugg Boots. You may not know it, but your computer tracks websites that you visit, and remembers places you've been online

So if a family member gets on that same computer to check, say, their Facebook page, guess what pops up? An ad for those Ugg Boots. Or let's say they want to do their own online Christmas shopping.  Well, those Ugg Boots pop up again. Even if they want to see what the weather is somewhere, an ad for those Ugg Boots shows up one more time. These would all be tell-tale signs that someone's been looking at Ugg Boots.

"Amazon's real good," says Colburn. "If you're signed in, they're real good at tracking everything that you've looked at so that you can easily go back and find those things."

But Colburn adds that Firefox and Google offer ways to get around those re-targeting online ads."You want to use a private browsing session," he says. "Google’s chrome is called Incognito."

Colburn also suggests using your smart phone instead of your computer or tablet to help keep your gifts a surprise. "If you don't want your computer to become the Grinch that kind of stole the surprise at Christmas, you might want to go incognito before you make that shopping decision."

3 On Your Side has learned this has become a big problem for parents because when their kids log on, ads for certain toys and electronics are popping up, which just might blow your cover.

For more details visit:  www.datadoctors.com/help/columns/22016-How-to-Block-Creepy-Stalker-Ads/