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Shopping for holiday gifts online saves time, money, and effort. However, there is one thing you’d better keep in mind: the internet makes presents easy to find but hard to keep secret.

Do you remember the last time your loved ones were unwrapping their gifts? Did they look truly surprised? If not, cookies and retargeting could be to blame—or yourself for not learning the ins and outs of holiday web and data security.

Annoyance is not the worst part of online marketing but rather its power to ruin surprises.

Because of browser tracking, ad retargeting, and cookies, we often find ourselves haunted by the ads of products and services we’ve been recently Googling. These same marketing tools are responsible for spoiling gift surprises.

The good news is that you still have time to save the holidays!

With some education on browser tracking, third-party cookies, and retargeting, you can enjoy the perks of online gift shopping with no risks attached.

The Technology Behind Problem Christmas Cookies

It all comes down to personalized advertisements.

From the marketer’s perspective, personalized ads are the result of behavioral targeting—a tool marketers use to increase the effectiveness of their ad campaigns. By collecting information about pages we visit and search queries we make, advertisers know which ads will resonate with us the most.

From the user’s perspective, personalized ads are a result of using cookies—small pieces of data from websites that are stored in your browser history to remember what pages you viewed. Once cookies are saved, you’ll be followed around with disturbingly custom ads, unless you clear cookies or block ads altogether.

Apart from being highly annoying, such personalized ads are capable of revealing secrets about what you’ve been searching or buying online.

Let’s look at an example: you want to propose to your girlfriend on Christmas Eve. Here’s how it can go wrong.

First, you turn to Google to find what makes a perfect engagement ring. Then, the next morning, your beloved comes to and finds herself inundated by ads for engagement rings and the best local restaurants for a memorable, romantic proposal.

The worst part is that she doesn’t even have to use your device! Connecting to WiFi through the same internet service provider can have the same effect.

This is how girlfriends say ‘yes’ before you even ask, and this is how surprises get spoiled.

How To Disable Ad Retargeting (And Save the Holidays)

Your surprises can still be saved. Follow the tips described below to make gift-giving great again.

Take Care of Cookie Security

No matter which browser you use, you can always disable third-party cookies and clear your browsing history so there will be no trace of your searching for a particular gift online.

Once done, marketers and ad networks will no longer have power over you. The only drawback of this solution is that you’ll have to delete cookies manually each time you finish searching for gifts online.

Use Private Browsing Mode

All major internet browsers allow for private or incognito browsing. Switching to a private mode has two advantages. First, your browser no longer collects your history. Second, you prevent websites and ad partners from dropping cookies on your machine. This way, marketers are left without much information to hound you with personalized ads. The only problem with this approach is that your internet provider still has your browsing history, which means some risk remains.

Try an Ad Blocker

This one is huge. Not only can ad blocking prevent your surprises from being spoiled, but it can also preserve your healthy nerves and limit the money spent on junk you could end up buying when ads are exceptionally convincing and smart.

Ad blocking puts a stop to banner ads, pop-up ads, and all other types of ads we are bombarded with these days. What makes ad blocking the best option out there, particularly ad blocking applications, is that it’s a long-term solution you can install once, use everywhere, and enjoy ever after.

Keep It Old School

If for some reason none of the above-mentioned solutions suits you, there is still one approach you can follow. Shop for your Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa gifts offline! Skip the browser tracking, repetitive ads, and cookies (except those double chocolate chip you’ll snag as a pick-me-up).

While there is nothing wrong with the old-school approach, there is no need to go to extremes. After all, online shopping is more convenient and often cheaper than traditional gift-hunting. Consequently, you’re better off protecting your holiday browsing security and enjoying the best of both worlds. Save time and money shopping online and avoid worry about inadvertently spoiling your surprises.

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