How to Stop Targeted Ads

First you need to understand how it works so you can fight back...

targeted ads

These days, we’re all victims of targeted advertising, with companies offering us products and services we are actually interested in buying. How does targeted ads work and why you should care – that’s what this article is all about. Read on for details…

Targeted advertising 101

Targeted advertising presumes showing online ads that are specifically targeted to certain individuals based on data collected about their interests, searches, location, and other factors. Because of all this, targeted ads are known to deliver better results, or as advertisers like to say, better conversions — as in conversion from an ad viewer to a buyer.

And unsurprisingly, many companies are using targeted advertising in order to more effectively reach customers; as opposed to spending money on ads without knowing whether people are interested in their products or not.

As far as end users are concerned, targeted ads look like any other ad, but the trick is in the technology that works in the background which makes sure only the “relevant audiences” see some ads. That technology, as mentioned above, presumes collecting as many data points as possible about every user on the Internet — and that’s the part we don’t like.

You see, Google and Facebook are free to use, but as they say it – if the price is free, you are the product (all of us). In exchange for offering their services for free, these two companies take note of every little action we do on the Internet. And that tracking goes beyond the properties they own (i.e. google.com and facebook.com) as their JavaScript codes are present on millions of websites across the Internet. This way, they get to learn a ton about us and, consequently, serve us targeted — or as they say “personalized” — ads for stuff we actually care about.

Types of targeted advertising

There are a few options available for companies employing targeted advertising, delivering ads based on a different criteria, including:

Contextual targeting
This sort of targeting presuming serving ads based on the content of the website you’re currently visiting. So if you’re on a fashion news website, you will see ads for clothing retailers. This, we would argue, is the basic targeting that used to work even before Google and Facebook came into the scene.

Behavioral targeting
Arguably the nastiest kind of targeting, it is based on the user’s online behavioral data. In the background, there is a high-tech software that makes comprehensive user profiles relying on various sets of data, such as online searches, purchase history, frequented websites, and more. Here, Google and Facebook are the ones to blame for the explosion of behavioral targeting.

Geo-targeting
Get-targeting is used to allow advertisers to serve different ads to people in different areas. For instance, a local restaurant doesn’t want to show ads to people NOT living in their area as it would, in most cases, be a waste of their advertising budget. Companies also use geo-targeted ads to persuade people to act, inviting them to special offers that are only available to people in their area (whereas they could serve such ads across the country, each tailored to a different local market).

Social media targeting
Modern targeting on social media is an advertiser’s dream come true. Instead of trying to figure out what anyone wants, social media users tell that themselves. One of the best examples I’ve heard involves a local wedding dress store promoting their offering to girls in the area who have set their relationship status to “engaged.” Facebook is pretty much the only platform that can deliver such ads to companies.

Retargeting
Retargeting allows advertisers to show ads to users who have previously shown interest in or interacted with them. And so, if you visit some company’s website once, you may see their ads on other places across the Internet — inviting you to check out their offering one more time. Retargeting is a powerful tool that has proven to deliver results for advertisers.

Finally, it is worth adding that the combination of different types of targeted ads tends to deliver even better results. The mentioned wedding dress store will use social media and geo-targeting, and perhaps push even harder (show more ads) to people who have already visited their website. It’s powerful and scary at the same time.

Why should you care about targeted advertising?

While perfectly legal, targeted advertising does raise some moral issues. Again, if the price is free, you as a human being are the product. And that’s something we don’t like.

Companies facilitating targeted advertising services, namely Google and Facebook, are able to do that because of their heavy data collection practices — and that raises many privacy concerns.

You see, these two tech giants — and some other companies — have a ton of information about each one of us. These would include details such as age, gender, income, relationship status, political views, and sexual orientation. In some cases, we have willingly shared some of these details, but in some others – the savvy algorithms managed to figure that out for themselves.

Beyond that basic data, the digital profiles Facebook and Google are building on their users also include behavioral information which is used to further enhance our digital profiles and even predict our future behavior — and more importantly, our spending habits. Again, very scary.

Just imagine what some companies could do with all that data in their hands? For instance, insurance companies would be able to predict whom they can charge higher rates, and at the end of the day – this discriminatory pricing would particularly affect low-income consumers who have fewer market choices.

Yup, it’s straight from the 1984 novel.

How can you stop targeted ads?

We don’t like targeted ads and we’re glad to have a few options to stop them. Here are some things you could do:

Use ad-blockers
As its name says, these tools will block ads on the Internet. It’s not exactly the best way as content producers need to show you those ads to monetize their work, but it gets the job done — removing JavaScript code that is meant to track you around the web. There are also some VPNs with included ad blockers.

Stay logged out of your Google and Facebook accounts
This will make it just a bit harder for the two companies to track every step you make online. They still have other tools to keep tabs on what you’re doing, but staying logged out will make their job slightly harder.

Don’t use your personal email to register for websites.
Once you register to some website with your personal email, all tracking on that website from that point on could be attributed/added to your digital profile. What’s more, this will add a unique identifier to your web whereabouts — at least on one site (which may be a part of the bigger network of websites).

Go easy on social media
There is no technology that could protect you from oversharing on social media. If you share what you’re doing and where you are frequently on Facebook and Twitter, you will get some targeted ads. These two will figure out where you are — or what you do — and fine-tune their algorithms to serve you with appropriate ads.

Use a VPN
Last but definitely not the least, make sure to get yourself a good great VPN. Not only will it help you stay anonymous on the Internet, but will also unlock and unblock parts of the Internet that would otherwise be outside of your reach. This is the key reason why the use of VPNs have been growing like crazy in many high-censorship countries across the world. Also, they are increasingly popular on college campuses and some workplaces where IT admins prefer to limit access to certain websites they deem questionable. In sharp contrast, we think that unrestricted access to the Internet is your human right. And you shouldn’t compromise over it.