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Ask Asa: Consumers Are Followed, Targeted When They Browse Online

Someone's eye always appears to be focused on you and your spending habits. (Credit: CBS 2)

Someone’s eye always appears to be focused on you and your spending habits. (Credit: CBS 2)

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NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) - Every time you go online, someone could be tracking your movements.

In most cases it’s benign sales research, but sometimes it’s an invasion of privacy.

Do you ever have that feeling that someone is watching you? A remote, spectral figure monitoring what you do? It’s not paranoia, CBS 2′s consumer reporter Asa Aarons explains.

It’s modern consumer life.

And it’s something that online shopper Mario Almonte found out just recently when he saw the same ad for a certain product pop up and follow him to different websites.

“I suddenly felt like I was being followed, like you’re in a dark alley,” Almonte told Aarons.

Consumers are quietly being followed — even targeted — when they browse online.

How much? How often?

A specialized software lets you see for yourself how you’re being tracked while you surf the web. From the looks of it, someone’s eye is always focused on you and your spending habits.

That’s all being stored, sold and shared among hundreds of different companies,” attorney for Abine and privacy analyst Sarah Downey said.

The Federal Trade Commission is pushing to give consumers greater control by creating a “Do Not Track” system. Its goal is to allow you to opt out of online tracking with the click of a button.

But the problem is that right now, the exact definition of “Do Not Track” is being debated.

The FTC said that some digital companies want “Do Not Track” to mean that consumers can just opt out of receiving targeted ads, but not out of data collection.

The Digital Advertising Alliance (DAA) recently unveiled its self-regulated opt-out program. You just click on a little icon on behaviorally-targeted ads and choose not to get them. But before you do that, keep in mind that you’ll still see ads — just not for items that you may have searched for recently.

“Most consumers don’t want random ads about things that they’re not interested in,” Linda A. Woolley of the Direct Marketing Association said.

Some web browsers offer new privacy settings which signal to companies that you don’t want to be tracked.

Remember that when you have a consumer question, issue or problem, write Asa at AskAsa@cbs.com.

Do you always feel that someone’s watching you when you’re online? Sound off with your thoughts and comments below…