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Wednesday, May 21st, 2008 by | Filed Under: Security Help, Using The Internet
 
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Q:
A lot of the Web sites I visit have advertisements that randomly pop up and while they’re rather annoying, they also always seem to know where I’m located. It’s like they’re targeting me personally. How can that be? Please explain!

A:
Oooh, that’s a really good question! It’s true that a lot of Web sites these days include advertisements for other products and incentives. They’re always trying to get you to click on those ads, because that’s their way of doing extra business and making more money. It’s completely normal to go to a Web site and be bombarded with pop up ads or banners that run across the top of the page. In fact, it’s unusual not to. And while that’s quite annoying, another thing that’s even more confusing is how they always seem to know where you live.

For example, I’m sure you’ve all seen the ads that advertise how you can meet singles in your area. They always mention several nearby cities and it just makes you wonder how they know where you’re located. Well, that type of advertising is known as geo-targeting and they’re able to figure out your location by either looking at your hostname or IP address. With that information, they can figure out the ISP you use, which makes it even easier for them to create an ad for your specific town or city.

Geo-targeting can also be done through online forms you may fill out or something you register for. The information you fill out is saved in your cookies and the advertisement companies can then search through those and find data they can use for more targeted advertising. It may not be completely fair, but it is legal and if you really think about it, they’re just doing their jobs.

Now, I know you’re probably wondering if geo-targeting can reveal anything else about you. Luckily, it’s pretty much limited to your hostname and IP address, which only give out your city, state, country and sometimes your zip code. Other more personal information, such as your name, address, phone number, e-mail address, birth date, age, sex, etc. cannot be found through geo-targeting.

Like I said before, geo-targeting is just another way for companies to make money and they just use it to try and make their ads more appealing to you. They think if you see your city name on one of their ads, you’re more likely to click on it and generate some business for them. Most ads are perfectly safe, but if you don’t feel comfortable clicking on them, you don’t have to. If you see an ad on one of your favorite Web sites, simply ignore it. You’re not obligated to do anything with it. I hope this helps clear everything up!

~ Erin

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