How to Reduce Your Ad Consumption

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In 2011, NPR’s All Things Considered ran a story about the effect advertising has on the brain. They hooked their host, Maya Cueva, up to an EEG cap and monitored her brain while she watched a 30-second Visa commercial.

What they found is that the brain is capable of linking concepts together, and making associations, even at a nonconscious or sub-conscious level. That anecdote was focused mostly on television ads.

Today, Internet ads stream on YouTube videos and play in the margins of websites. The nature of ads has also grown invasive. Ads interrupt the content we read and they follow us around the Web too. We can use VPN services and ad blockers to try and curb some of that invasiveness, but the reality is that some of those ads will get through.

Here is some advice on how to reduce your ad intake, and filter out the bulk of that content.

Use a Reliable VPN

You may have heard about tracking cookies, which are small data files that keep records of the sites you visit and your activity around the Web. Companies use these records to build profiles about you, and your data, to try and establish more information about your demographic. Advertisers buy ad space to show their ads to the demographic that best fits what they are looking for (IE, homeowners with a median income of $100,000, or pet owners who also own a car).

There are two ways to cut down on the amount of data being collected about you. The first is semi-reliable and involves telling your browser to stop accepting third-party cookies. You can visit the settings in your Firefox, Chrome or Edge browser, and de-select “Accept Third Party Cookies” to see a reduction in data collection. However, this doesn’t ensure your browsing remains private. Only a Virtual Private Network can offer you a completely different IP address, which is like a phone number in another country. It makes you appear as though you are browsing from a physical location you do not occupy. This way, any data that is tracked belongs to a profile for a non-existent user.

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Change How You Consume Content

Streaming video, as opposed to traditional television, is a great way to reduce ad intake. Television is reducing ads, but viewers still have to fast forward through multiple commercials that aren’t targeted to the viewer. On the Web, some streaming services do feature ads. Even Amazon features ads for its own services when you watch a Prime television show or movie.

However, these ads tend to be significantly shorter than what you see on television, and are usually targeted closer to your interests thanks to the data collected about your browsing habits. Whether that’s good or bad depends on how you view data collection, but streaming will cut down on the volume of ads that you see.

Improve Email Filters

Finally, email still plays an important role in reducing ad consumption. You need to create “rules” or “filters” to try and catch these spam ads, and there are some theories as to what is most effective. One popular technique is called the Naive Bayes Spam Filter and involves a “bag of words” used to try and catch spam email. By assigning a probability score to certain words, it’s possible to determine whether a message is or is not spam based on what it says. In fact, many popular email programs (and add-ons) already use this technique to varying degrees of effectiveness. Setting up your own takes a long time and a great deal of research, but you can create simple rules in most mail programs designed to catch immediate problem senders (such as those annoying refi offers from the Obama years).

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