How ads follow you around the internet

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Published on 3 Feb 2020, 13:30
Hint: It’s why every site asks you to accept cookies.

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You’ve seen the pop-ups: “This site uses cookies to improve your experience. Please accept cookies.”

Cookies do improve your experience. They function as the website’s short term memory; with each new click you make, cookies help the site identify you as the same person. Imagine every time you add something to your cart and click away, it disappears. Or each time you load a new page on Facebook, you have to log in again. Without cookies, the online world we know today couldn’t exist.

But that world relies on advertising, which gives three kinds of companies a strong incentive to track your online behavior. Brands want to sell products by serving you ads for things you’re likely to buy. Platforms and publishers — like Vox — want to make money by serving those ads when you’re on their site. And middlemen are in the business of ensuring the ads from the brands are delivered to the right people.

In this video, we explain how cookies work and what you should know about how they’re being used. And we get a little help from the man who invented them.

Open Sourced is a year-long reporting project from Recode by Vox that goes deep into the closed ecosystems of data, privacy, algorithms, and artificial intelligence. Learn more at vox.com/opensourced

This project is made possible by the Omidyar Network. All Open Sourced content is editorially independent and produced by our journalists.

Watch all episodes of Open Sourced right here on YouTube: bit.ly/2tIHftD

Become a part of the Open Sourced Reporting Network and help our reporting. Join here: vox.com/opensourcednetwork

Sources:
“Online Tracking: A 1-million-site Measurement and Analysis” cs.princeton.edu/~arvindn/publ...
"Why every website wants you to accept its cookies"
vox.com/recode/2019/12/10/1865...
“The reasoning behind web cookies” montulli.blogspot.com/2013/05/...
Letter following Facebook Chief Technology Officer testimony before UK House of Commons parliament.uk/documents/common...
“How does online tracking actually work?” robertheaton.com/2017/11/20/ho...
“Now sites can fingerprint you online even when you use multiple browsers” arstechnica.com/information-te...
“WTF are Facebook’s first-party cookies for pixel?” digiday.com/marketing/wtf-what...
“About Cookie Settings for Facebook Pixel” facebook.com/business/help/471...
“What information does Facebook get when I visit a site with the Like button?” facebook.com/help/186325668085...
Transcript of Mark Zuckerberg’s Senate Hearing washingtonpost.com/news/the-sw...
“Facebook Is Tracking Me Even Though I’m Not on Facebook” aclu.org/blog/privacy-technolo...
Internet History Podcast Interview with Lou Montulli internethistorypodcast.com/201...

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