It never fails.
You’re online, searching for a new guitar, pair of sneakers, or even a tropical getaway, and a short time later, advertisements for these products begin popping up on your social media and internet browser.
It’s not a coincidence.
It’s called targeted advertising, and instead of reaching a mass audience like TV commercials do, it enables advertisers to target specific consumers.
“They’re directed specifically at you and they’re based on the things that companies think you may be interested in or maybe are more likely to buy,” said Thomas Germain, Consumer Reports tech editor.
From relationship status, to activity, location, interests and even brands you’ve “liked” on social media, advertisers are becoming increasingly talented at knowing who you are and targeting their ads specifically to you.
“Let’s say you’re shopping for sneakers on the internet. Companies are keeping track of the websites you visit and the things you’re doing on digital products and sooner or later, you’re going to see a sneaker ad,” said Germain.
A study by Pew Research Center revealed that 74 per cent of Facebook users had no idea the social media giant was categorizing them for the purpose of advertising, and about half of those polled said they were uncomfortable with Facebook compiling this data.
In today’s digital age, we tend to be willing to sacrifice more of our online privacy for convenience, but, if you’re finally fed up with being on the receiving end of targeted ads, there are ways to reclaim your digital privacy.
Here’s what to do if you’re ready to put advertisers back into the friend zone.
Ad blockers and private browsing
First, try using an ad blocker. Ad blockers are often browser extensions that look for the common components of online ads, so if the program finds ads, they block them.
Some popular options include AdBlock Plus and uBlock Origin.
“You can also use private browsing mode on your browser -- which isn’t a fool proof method but it will help protect you in some situations,” said Germain.
Private browsing – also known as Incognito mode - works by deleting your computers browsing history and online trackers called cookies, after you close it. Also consider using browsers like Brave and Firefox, which have built-in ad blockers.
Facebook is especially talented at pinpointing which ads might be of interest to you. In fact, it’s how Facebook makes a living. In 2018 the company made US$56 billion in ad revenue, according to Statista, and it’s projected to surpass that number in 2019.
If you want to see just how much of your information Facebook has collected, log onto Facebook and select “Settings,” followed by “Ad Preferences” you can see how they have categorized you based on presumed interests. Under “Advertisers and Businesses,” you can also check the advertisers whose ads you’ve clicked on, which advertisers have uploaded a list of your information and advertised to it, and which businesses uploaded and shared a list with your info.
If you’re ready to give Facebook ads the cold shoulder, here’s what you can do.
In “Ad Preferences” you can also select on “Your Information,” which showcases some common data about yourself – including relationship status, employer, job title and education. And yes, Facebook is also using this information to tailor specific ads to you. Just hit the toggle button on each of the categories to limit access to your information.
If you see an annoying ad pop up in your newsfeed, click the top right corner of the ad and choose “Hide ad.” From there, you can choose why you no longer want to see that ad, or you can block all ads from that specific business.
Finally, you can go into “Settings,” then “Ad Preferences,” and under “Ads Settings” you can determine which type of ads you want to disable.
Instagram ads can be particularly misleading, as they appear as a normal Instagram post or story, but say “Sponsored” under the account handle. Instagram made nearly US$9 billion in 2018 in ad revenue, according to Statista.
If you don’t want to see a certain ad, click on the top right portion of the ad, and select “Hide Ad.” From there, it will ask you why you didn’t want to see it, and you can select “It’s not relevant,” “I see it too often,” or “It’s inappropriate.”
And because Facebook owns Instagram, any changes you make to ad preferences in Facebook will also appear in Instagram.
The social media bird has taken flight; in 2017 Twitter reported ad revenue of US$732 million, according to The Washington Post.
Because Facebook doesn’t own Twitter, any personalized ads must be terminated through the app itself. Under “Settings and Privacy” select “Privacy and safety.” Click on “Personalization and data” and from there you can select the toggle to disable all personalized ads, or specific categories.
The only entity that knows you better than you know yourself is Google. And it’s no coincidence that Google is also the advertising champion. According to Statista, that title goes to Google, who made US$116 billion in 2018 from ad revenue.
To turn off Google’s personalized ads, and the over two million websites partnered with Google to show ads, look for “Ad Personalization” and then select “Turn Off.”
On your smartphone
You can also reset your advertising identifier on your smartphone and opt out of personalized ad tracking. If you have an Android device, select “Settings”, then “Google” and then “Ads”, and click “Reset Advertising ID.”
On iOS, go into “Settings”, followed by “Privacy”, then “Advertising”, and click “Reset Advertising Identifier.”
By following these tips, you might receive less relevant and personalized ads, but, you will better protect your personal data while online.