When the holidays have finally come around and it’s time to tackle your shopping list, it’s normal to browse multiple websites and products looking for the perfect pick. It’s just as common to see those same products popping up in targeted ads on your social media and web browsers long after you’re done shopping.
Is someone tracking your online activity? Can you stop these ads from following you around the web? Learn how these targeted ads are made and how you can stop Facebook ads and other nuisances from haunting your holiday shopping and following you around the web.
How do targeted ads work?
Many consumers swear their web browsers and social media accounts are listening to their conversations. That belief is understandable given the accuracy of some of the ads users are seeing nowadays. However, there’s a system to the way advertisers get their ads in front of the right eyes. They work closely with social media platforms (like Facebook) or web browsers (like Google) to do it.
So, let’s say you’ve been shopping the TJ Maxx home section for something to add to your living space and discussing your options with a few friends. Not even a week later, those options are showing up in display ads alongside your newsfeed. Here are a few ways this can happen:
- You were logged into your social account while browsing the products.
- You fit the target demographic the company asked their ads to be shown to.
- You’ve purchased from the company before and they’re targeting you specifically.
- You’re active on one of Google’s many web-based services (Google Maps, Google Chrome, Gmail, Waze) so they have a detailed profile on your likes and dislikes.
If you have social media apps on your phone, the odds are you’re logged in to those accounts and they’re monitoring your browsing activity on other sites. Facebook, in particular, is especially skilled at this thanks to Facebook Pixel, a technology that sends messages back to Facebook from sites you’ve visited.
You may also be seeing ads because you fit the company’s target audience or you’ve purchased from the retailer before. But if you’re seeing the exact products in your cart displayed in ads elsewhere, that information was passed along to the social media app via Pixel.
Google is able to put together a pretty extensive list of who you are, where you go and what you’re into, based off of your activity on any of their various services. So if you frequent any of Google’s popular platforms and you’ve never altered the settings, those platforms are constantly learning from you in order to serve up ads specifically for you.
How to stop targeted ads
You don’t have to let shopping decisions of the past haunt you forever. There are a few simple hacks and edits to your settings that can make targeted ads a thing of the past on social media and your web browser. Take a look at how to stop Facebook ads and some steps you can take on popular platforms like Google.
How to stop Facebook ads
You can’t opt out of ads completely but you do have a say in which ads you see and what data is used to select these ads. You can click on any ad directly and choose to hide it specifically, hide ads from the advertisers or check out why you’re seeing it in the first place.
From there, you can get a better idea of how to stop Facebook ads by seeing what data is being used and then change the data that’s influencing your ads.
To turn off ads based on your relationship status, employer, job title or education:
- Open Facebook and navigate to the main menu. Select Settings in the Settings & Privacy dropdown.
- Scroll down to the Ads section and select Ad Preferences.
- Select Your information and deactivate any of the profile fields listed to stop ads based on these categories.
To stop ads based on data from advertisers, offline interactions (like purchases, your use of partner websites or apps) and your activity on Facebook Company Products:
- Navigate back to the Ad Preferences menu and choose Ad settings.
- Click on Ads based on data from partner or Ads based on your activity on Facebook Company Products that you see elsewhere.
- Select No to deactivate these ad influencers.
These instructions aren’t universal to every social media platform, but making these changes on a player like Facebook could actually take care of a good bit of your ad targeting problems.
How to stop Google ads
Because Google is behind some of the largest web-based services in the industry (YouTube, Waze and Google Chrome, to name a few) the changes you make to your Google account ad settings will make a major impact on the ads you see overall.
To edit which data Google uses to create your ads:
- Open your Google account profile and select Data & personalization in the main menu.
- Scroll down to the Web & App Activity and disable ads influenced by your activity altogether or pick and choose which activities are included using the checklist.
You’ll also have the option to stop data collection from your location history as well (especially useful for Google Maps users).
To stop your data from influencings your ads altogether, you can scroll down a bit further to the Ad personalization settings and deactivate this setting completely.
As consumers, we’ll never be able to totally escape ads, but if you know how they work and how you can influence them, you can get some of your privacy back.