In December the Federal Trade Commission issued a report advocating that Internet users be given more options to opt out of online tracking.

What is online tracking?

Many of today’s most visited websites, and empowered third-party tracking companies and data brokers, gather information about users’ online behavior to sell to advertisers. Advertisers can then reach users with hyper-targeted ads. For example, about a month ago I spent several consecutive days researching baseball pitching machines for a project. Now, during my day-to-day browsing activities, ads for baseball pitching machines still materialize all over the Internet. Aside from the apparent loss of Internet users’ privacy, Mashable kindly put together a list of reasons why online tracking, if unchecked, will be a big problem.

Though a significant topic of debate for years, only now is legislation in the works to combat online tracking. Most recently, Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., introduced a new privacy bill to empower the FTC to create a do-not-track system

Already, the most popular Internet browsers are rolling out features to let users opt out of online tracking.

Microsoft, for example, plans to roll out tracking protection in the newest version of its browser, Internet Explorer 9.

Mozilla, meanwhile, has released an opt out feature in the newest version of its browser, Firefox 4, now in beta. Accessible through its preferences, you can prevent websites from tracking your online activity.

Google Chrome has also recently released an extension to allow users to permanently opt out of online tracking via advertisers’ cookies, small pieces of text that attach themselves to a computer’s hard drive once a website is visited. Cookies are primarily used to keep users logged into a site, to store site preferences and more.