Protect your privacy from Google AdSense's new behavioral ads

Mar 15, 2009
Updated • Dec 16, 2012

Google recently launched behavioral targeted ads for AdSense. This means AdSense displays adverts not only on the context of the webpage, but on the context of your browsing history. The aim is to provide more relevant and efficient adverts, but tracking cookies being used across hundreds of thousands of websites raises obvious privacy issues, as Google can use this information to log website you have been on.

Usually, the Electronic Frontier Foundation is very critical of big corporations who intrude on people's privacy, but their criticism was not very harsh. Why? Because Google has developed a web browser plug-in that permits users to opt-out of this scheme.

The plug-in is available for Internet Explorer and Firefox and modifications to browser preferences in Chrome and Safari also allow people to opt-out. Google also maintains an 'Ad Preferences Manager' which allows this tracking cookie to be disabled until the next time cookies are wiped.

There are several reasons to disable these cookies. Firstly, you may not entrust Google with your details. Secondly, adverts based on past browsing may be displayed to other users of the computer... not perfect if, for example, you were buying a present for a family member and they are suddenly swarmed with advertisements about it!

Most tracking cookies can be disabled if you modify browser settings. In Firefox, for example, in Preferences>Privacy, you can refuse to 'accept third party cookies'.

Update: Disabling third party cookies can be an effective option to disable tracking on the web. All web browsers ship with such an option. It is furthermore possible to install add-ons like NoScript or Google Privacy to block further tracking attempts on the web.

Mozilla about a year ago started to include a "do not track" header in Firefox that informs websites on connection that the user does not want to be tracked. Companies like Google or Microsoft will implement a similar option into their browsers.


Tutorials & Tips

Previous Post: «
Next Post: «


  1. Anonymous said on February 14, 2011 at 9:33 pm

    ‘Ad Preference Manager’ expects cookies to be enabled, else it won’t even start.
    the ‘Opt-Out’ by google is for “Firefox Version 1.5+” while there are countless versions not working on that core anymore.

    nice idea, but not very convincing, especially if these things are created by the ones who created the trackers.

  2. Rick said on July 22, 2009 at 3:02 pm

    I smell spam. How is using a VPN going to protect you from cookies?

  3. John said on July 22, 2009 at 1:25 am

    I use Ace VPN to protect my privacy. Costs me $5 per month but atleast I know the web sites cannot keep track of me. You can use any VPN but make sure they dont keep logs about your activities.

  4. Jim said on March 15, 2009 at 4:18 pm

    They don’t have a plug in (yet), but at this site you can click once and be opted out of ALL of the ad networks (not just Google).

    1. Martin said on March 15, 2009 at 5:59 pm

      Jim great site, have written an article about them today.

  5. Transcontinental said on March 15, 2009 at 1:08 pm

    EDIT : read more about it here :

  6. Transcontinental said on March 15, 2009 at 1:03 pm

    For Firefox, there is also the alternative of an extension (experimental) called ‘Targeted Advertising Cookie Opt-Out’ ( ), which states that it “is based on Google’s Advertising Cookie Opt-out Plugin, but has been modified to include the opt out cookies for a number of other advertising companies.”

  7. Rarst said on March 15, 2009 at 10:49 am

    Who cares? Web is already equipped with Google Analytics (for years), not even mentioning dozens of other analytics services and tons of outright spyware (that doesn’t even pretend to be good).

    Want privacy – cancel your Internet connection. Because it is long gone online and not coming back.

  8. Jonathan said on March 15, 2009 at 8:22 am

    Well as I have stated else ware, Firefox+ad block+no script= no worries! I have not seen an ad in sometime, and do not plan on allowing any! I have everything with marked as untrusted with no-scripts, so I have no problems what so ever with ad bombardment.

  9. Xmetalfanx said on March 15, 2009 at 7:23 am

    For Firefox users …you may want to
    try this add-on

  10. G Thompson said on March 15, 2009 at 7:10 am

    Interestingly they haven’t considered other country laws other than the USA. Most specifically the EU and Australian Privacy laws that state that the selection of OPT-IN and NOT OPT-OUT for these systems is wrongful and not in the interests of the users privacy. ie: To make the user perform multiple steps (if they even know those steps exist) to opt-out is a civil offense and in some cases a criminal offense.

    Though this might not bother Google so much, it has a vicarious liability component on the advertisers who use this system and reside in those areas where the law is enacted.

    Personally I have a cynical view of a company who has made opt-in mandatory and then to opt out you have to download/enable a plugin onto your system. What else does the plugin do??? ~hmmmmmm~

  11. Anonymous User said on March 15, 2009 at 6:27 am

    EFF has a bizarre discussion about opt-in opt out cookie clearing. as this post sort-of points out, just don’t accept cookies period and this will not be a problem. If there is a website on which you need to accept cookies add an exception for that website. I guess if you are a gmail user this is more of a problem, but it still seems like people need to put a higher premium on privacy and we also need laws which prevent the sort of tracking google does.

  12. Rick (not the same Rick as above) said on March 15, 2009 at 3:29 am

    What about Opera users?

    How does the browsing history cookie described above relate to google search history?

  13. Paul(us). said on March 15, 2009 at 2:52 am

    Joe not Martin.

  14. Paul(us). said on March 15, 2009 at 2:51 am

    To speak in Orson Welles therms adsense/The War of the Worlds/Citizen Kane in cooperation with Google/big brother is watching you. I personly say/write nice application and, again, a good find Martin.

Leave a Reply

Check the box to consent to your data being stored in line with the guidelines set out in our privacy policy

We love comments and welcome thoughtful and civilized discussion. Rudeness and personal attacks will not be tolerated. Please stay on-topic.
Please note that your comment may not appear immediately after you post it.