And how Google and Facebook determine the ads you see
The Internet, not surprisingly, knows a lot about me. All is garnered from my infatuation with Googling new vacation spots (please don’t tell my husband), to my yearning to be a better gardener (super grateful they can’t see the finished product), to my affinity for clicking on cat memes, puns, and all things Beyoncé.
How do I know what the Internet says about me? Because I can easily access my Facebook and Google ad profiles online. These profiles, which are based on my browsing history and online and app activity (both brands collect data from partner sites and apps, as well as their own platforms), allow both companies to document my interests.
That’s how they can sell ads to marketers wanting to target consumers with my interests and demographic profile.
Reviewing your ad profiles can be an interesting (albeit, slightly unnerving) way to see whether the Internet got your personality “right.” More importantly, reviewing your ad profiles reveals what data is being collected on you, and how.
To view your ad profiles, go to these links:
Your Google ad profile lists demographic information and interests, including brands you like, hobbies, entertainment preferences, and more. If you see an incorrect interest on this page, click the interest to turn it off; this, in theory, allows you to see ads more tailored to your interests.
Or, if you’re totally creeped out by how much data Google has on you—welcome to the club—here are a few things you can do:
Scroll to the top of the Ad Settings page (linked above) and turn personalization “off.”
Go to myactivity.google.com and choose the option to automatically delete your web and app activity.
Log out of your Google account while browsing and/or turn on “incognito” mode in your browser.
Keep in mind: Google owns YouTube, so your online video activity is also factored into your profile.
Your Facebook ad profile (if you have a Facebook account) is likely more detailed than your Google profile and is based on your Facebook activity, your Facebook account info (which includes your demographic and device-usage information), and your activity on Facebook’s many partner websites and apps. Your profile also shows the companies that have uploaded contact lists with your information on them to Facebook, so they can target you with ads.
While you can’t turn Facebook ads off, you do have a few options to update your ad and data capture preferences:
Go to the Ad Preferences link above and remove irrelevant interests.
On the same page under “Your Information,” turn off sharing your demographic information and under “Ad Settings” select “Not Allowed” for the partner data sharing options.
If you see an irrelevant ad while using Facebook, select the three dots in the upper right corner and choose “Hide ad”.
Pro-tip: Get rid of those sometimes-pesky Amazon remarking ads by selecting “Do not personalize ads from Amazon” at https://www.amazon.com/adprefs.
What you as an Internet user must keep in mind is that Google and Facebook can be invaluable tools for learning and connecting with others, but they’re not free. You pay for them with your personal data, by which they sell ads.
The good news, though, is there are ways to use the Internet with a little more privacy. Likewise, with online privacy becoming a growing consumer concern, more online companies, e.g., Google and Facebook, are becoming increasingly transparent about the data they collect and how they collect it.
You might not be able to control the inundation of digital ads every day, but you can, to an extent, control the content you see by editing your interests and data-capture preferences.