We’ve all been there. You’re searching for a camera, a pair of shoes or a kitchen gadget online and then you see an ad for it immediately on Facebook, Youtube or your browser.
Online targeted advertisements use data from your browser to make marketing more personalized. Special algorithms then look at your website visits and searches over time to predict your preferences and show ads you may be interested in.
For example, if you’re searching for a vacation in the Bahamas, you may start seeing more ads from airline companies and bathing suits.
Unless you’re willing to unplug, there’s little you can do to avoid being tracked online. But there are some ways to control what ads you see and how the ads are tailored to you.
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“Blocking ads, clearing cookies, etc., can help a little in protecting privacy online,” said Andrew Clement, professor in the Faculty of Information at the University of Toronto.
“However, this will be of limited value as long as social media platforms like Facebook make their fortunes selling their users data and attention to advertisers and any others who want to manipulate them. To achieve real progress, users will also need to demand much more effective regulation that actually reins in these data-hungry platforms.”
How targeted ads work
The personalized ads are a result of cookies and an IP address. Cookies are text files in your browser that track information you’ve searched. Your IP address is kind of like your house address and shows where you are located. The balance between both of them is what gives the information to advertisers.
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According to David Soberman, the Canadian National Chair in Strategic Marketing at the Rotman School of Management, there are two ways online ads can target you: through social networks and through your browser.
“On our social media sites, there are ads that function based on who logs in,” Soberman said. “If I log in as David Soberman, there is information collected about me that is used to target ads. For example, if there are a lot of posted pictures of me and my friends hunting and holding guns, … social media networks could then scan the pictures.”
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As a result, the next time Soberman logs into Facebook, he said could see ads for hunting vacations or guns.
Advertisements also target you through your browser, which Soberman calls a “clickstream.” The cookies and IP address records websites you visit, how long you were on it, etc.
How to stop targeted ads
Turn off cookies
Whether you’re using Chrome, Safari or Internet Explorer, there are options to turn off your cookies setting. For example, in Chrome click “settings,” “show advanced settings” and then click on “content settings.” Once there, you can disable cookies.
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Use a browser plug-in
You can use a browser plug-in to limit data tracking. For example, Mozilla launched a Firefox browser plug-in, called a Facebook Container, that helps control how much data the social media company can access.
The extension helps isolate your Facebook identity from the rest of the web, meaning the company will not be able to use web activity to send your targeted ads. But the extension does not prevent Facebook advertisers from looking into your activity on the platform.
Turn off targeted Facebook ads
To opt out of Facebook showing you targeted ads from other sites, or from seeing Facebook’s ads on other sites, open your Facebook page and click “settings,” and then “ads.”
Then click on the “ads based on my use of websites and apps” setting and press the “choose setting” button and select “off.” Once you turn this feature off, Facebook says you will still see the same number of ads, but they may be less relevant to you. It also won’t stop Facebook (and other companies) from tracking you. It simply means that information won’t be used to show ads targeted to you.
Opt out of ads
Canadian users can also opt out of targeted advertising through the Digital Advertising Alliance of Canada’s website.
The website allows you to:
- Find out which companies have currently enabled customized ads for your browser.
- View a list of all companies and learn more about their advertising and privacy practices.
- Opt out of online interest-based advertising by any of the participating companies listed on the tool.
Major browsers, such as Chrome, Firefox and Safari, have a private browsing setting, also known as incognito. Using this feature means your browser will ignore cookies, including ad-tracking cookies and will not record your history.
Limit site linking
Avoid using the “login with Facebook or Google” feature on websites you visit.