Advertisers have me pegged as a millennial woman who cares about art, goes to cultural events in New York City, and definitely wants to buy underwear from a bra startup. It’s (mostly) true, and they’ve inferred all of this from my browsing habits.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. A new tool released by Firefox gives you an easy way to completely confuse the trackers that follow you around the web. You choose one of four personas—hypebeast, filthy rich, doomsday, or influencer—and then the tool will open a deluge of browser tabs with websites related to each of these areas, designed to trick advertising trackers into thinking that you’re actually an apocalypse prepper gathering supplies for the end of the world, or you’re obsessed with the latest sneaker and music drops. It’s the latest way for privacy-focused users to fool the companies that aim to track their behavior and use it to serve personalized ads online.
The tool, called Track This, comes just after Firefox’s announcement earlier this month that it will automatically turn on tracking protections for all new Firefox users by default—a necessary step toward becoming a privacy-centric browser.
Be forewarned, Track This opens up a lot of tabs: 100, to be exact, so make sure you’re ready for the tab deluge that’s about to ensue. (The first time I tried it, it crashed my very old computer.) I tried out the “Filthy Rich” persona, and Track This brought up websites for BMW, Dolce and Gabbana, and the Bellagio resort in Las Vegas. There was a sale site for dressage horses, and another site specifically for equestrian real estate. There’s even a website for private islands that are for sale (in case you’re interested, there’s one in the Turks and Caicos islands for $3.9 million). Almost immediately, I started getting ads for Charles Schwab and Harry’s, the razor startup (clearly, anyone that filthy rich must be a man). I’m sure that for the next few days, I’ll be getting ads for luxury yachts and premium credit cards.
I also tried out the doomsday persona, and within a few hours, I was getting ads for the exact same potable water tablets that Track This had opened up to convince advertisers of my new obsession.
But there’s a bigger point here. While it’s funny to think about the personas that Firefox’s tool is able to create so effortlessly, Track This also points out the way that what you click on ends up shaping what you see online. Seeing ads designed to reach someone a few tax brackets above you reveals just how personalized ads are, and that seems relatively innocuous. But the tool also underlines what you’re not seeing: For instance, Facebook has been sued over the way advertisers have used its service to discriminate by age and race when it comes to job ads and housing ads, respectively.
Track This is a great way to illustrate this problem, but there are other ways to protect yourself from advertising cookies, too. Firefox poses its default tracking feature as one way to prevent companies from tracking where you go online and using that information to make inferences about what you might buy and what jobs you might want to apply to—yet another reason to switch to Firefox.