Targeted ads are stalking you. Here’s how to avoid and stop targeted ads
As you may recall, last week we wrote about Meta and Apple after the two tech giants were fined for breaking EU data rules with their targeted ads. Facebook’s Meta was fined over $400 million by the EU privacy regulator for forcing users to accept targeted ads without their consent.
Unfortunately, Meta and Apple are not alone. Last year, several US states filed lawsuits against Google for collecting data on users who think they can be anonymous if they use a “private browsing” mode. In addition, Indiana, Washington State, and the District of Columbia also filed separate suits against Google in state courts over what they called deceptive location-tracking practices that invade users’ privacy.
Targeted ads might be a convenient way for marketers to present ads that reflect consumers’ interests. However, it also puts people’s personal data at risk: anyone can buy this data and use it for purposes other than targeted ads and advertising campaigns. Targeted ads aren’t just annoying, they can also be harmful. So, the question is: How do you protect yourself from targeted ads when surfing online? In this piece, a digital privacy expert shares five steps to avoid or minimize the targeted advertising that you are seeing.
Many people have shopped online and after checking several websites all they saw on their devices were targeted ads of, for example, a new watch. However, while targeted ads are convenient for marketers and advertising agencies, they also put people’s personal data at risk. Anyone can buy this data and use it for purposes other than targeted ads and advertising campaigns.
“Most people are unaware of how targeted advertising works and how much of their personal information is collected online. Web cookies, location information and mined data collect information about our browsing activities from site to site,” Daniel Markuson, a digital privacy expert at NordVPN said.
Markuson added: “These ads are not only irritating but also put people’s personal information at risk. One of the key concerns is the fact that targeted ads reveal personal information, such as age, gender, income, relationship status, political views, and sexual orientation. Companies can use such data to predict whether they can charge people more as well as forecast your behavior and incentivize your actions. One example could be the Cambridge Analytica scandal. It targeted voters with ads based on their psychological traits in order to manipulate them better.”
How To Avoid and Stop Targeted Ads
“Targeted advertising might create a feeling that advertisers are stalking your every move. If you’re cautious about your privacy, this can feel unnerving,” says Daniel Markuson. If you are tired of shopping sites sending you “I see you checked out this item, here’s some similar stuff” messages, Markuson recommends several steps:
- Modify your notifications. Some sites are better about presenting this setting separately from other types of notifications, or you may only be able to stop this by unsubscribing from all advertising emails from the company.
- Opt out of targeted ads. Some social networking and search engine sites, as well as major software vendors and some ISPs, will allow you to opt out of targeted advertising.
- Use an ad-blocker. Ad blocking extensions work on the browser level to prevent advertisements, banners, and pop-ups. However, you can go further with an ad-block VPN such as NordVPN and its Threat Protection feature.
- Delete your information from data brokers. If you really want to exclude yourself from shadowy databases, you can contact individual data brokers to clean up or delete your information.
- Use a VPN to hide your identity. A virtual private network won’t hide all ads, but you won’t get any personalized ones. A VPN hides your internet activity from prying eyes, including marketers and your internet service provider (ISP).
In addition, if you have a Facebook user, you could stop Facebook from tracking you on your iPhone or other Apple devices. Apple rolled out a privacy feature in 2021 that prevents Facebook from tracking you without your consent. Apple said the new App Tracking Transparency “requires all apps to get the user’s permission before tracking their data across apps or websites owned by other companies for advertising, or sharing their data with data brokers.”
If you’re on Android, you could also opt out of targeted ads. Google Android offers a way for advertisers to uniquely identify you in order to track your activity across applications and websites you consume on your mobile device. However, you could prevent or hinder tracking on your Android device either by periodically resetting your Ad ID or by opting out completely, according to a guide from Privacy International.