Do you ever get that feeling that advertisers are stalking your every move? At this point, most of us can recite a story from our own personal experience or that of a close friend or family member, where an ad had a particularly spooky kind of relevance.
This sort of targeted marketing is not necessarily a malicious thing, though there is always the potential for misuse of legitimate advertising networks. And for those of us who are sensitive about our privacy, it can simply feel unnerving. If you prefer your browsing experiences to feel a little less like being chased by a clairvoyant, there are a few ways you can decrease the number of targeted ads you receive.
As someone who’s in the habit of turning off mobile device functionality when I’m not specifically using it, I was unaware of “mobile beacons”, until my distinguished colleague Aryeh Goretsky pointed it out to me. (Ignorance is occasionally bliss!)
Apparently, a growing number of brick-and-mortar stores are sending location-based ads to customers who are in their establishments. These may be in-store deals, or just ways of encouraging you to try a new brand of fruit juice. As you may already have surmised, the way to stop this sort of ad from appearing on your mobile device is to turn off Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and Near-Field Communication (NFC) when you’re not using them. Some devices will even allow you to create handy shortcuts so you can toggle this functionality quickly and easily.
Modify your notifications
If you get sick of shopping sites sending you “I see you stared at this item, here’s some similar stuff” messages, you may be able to modify your subscriptions or notifications to make this stop. 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
There are a surprising number of ways that you can opt out of interest-based ads. The Network Advertising Initiative and Digital Advertising Alliance are self-regulated associations that provide responsible data collection guidelines for advertisers and opt-out technologies for consumers. 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.
This comes with a heap of caveats: These opt-out methods may be imperfect, and you will have to re-check opt-out sites and privacy settings periodically since options are likely to change over time. This will not disable ads completely; it will likely decrease the percentage of ads that are interest-based. Naturally, this could also lead to ads that are annoying for other reasons. But for some of us, going through this process may still be worth the hassle.
Block Third-Party Trackers
Third-party trackers are cookies set by a website other than the one you’re on – such as advertisers – and which may follow you from place to place. By blocking these cookies, either within your browser settings or with a browser extension, you can stop those ads that seem to follow you from one site to another after you “window-shop” an item.
Use an Ad Filter
If you’re disinclined to use an Ad Blocker – advertising is, after all, the grease that keeps the wheels of most of the internet going – you may wish to try an ad filter that excludes ads based on some of the most egregious marketing behaviors. Google’s Chrome Browser includes this functionality as of February 15, 2018.
Delete your information from data brokers
If you really want to get deep into the weeds of excluding yourself from shadowy databases, you can contact individual data brokers to clean up or delete your information. This is not a simple process, nor is it a quick one. But again, you may find it to be worth the effort. You can also hire a service to help you with this process.
It may not be possible to totally control where our data is collected, or what is done with it once it’s gathered. But the more people who take steps to avoid targeted advertising, the more quickly advertisers might get the message that these marketing techniques are less beneficial to their bottom line than they might now be conditioned to believe.