Most of us have been stalked by ads before. You know—the ones that follow you wherever you go online.
You shop for a new computer and suddenly you’re seeing ads for it everywhere you go. You scroll through your Facebook feed, and there it is. You hop on Instagram, and you see a promoted post. Even when you visit news sites you’ll see ads—and even after you decide to buy it.
The advertising industry calls these “personalized ads” and they are indeed tailored to you. They can also be both creepy and annoying.
Why they happen
In a word: cookies. When you go to a brand’s web page and view a product, a cookie is stored in your browser.
These cookies can now gather some pretty detailed information. These trackers can tell marketing people whether you’re actually interested in an item—including whether you looked at that product’s page for a long time, or if you put it in your cart but didn’t check out. With that information, the brand’s tech marketing companies follow your cookie as you travel the internet, serving you up an ad for the item you seem to be interested in.
As the New York Times reports, things get “extra messy when brands employ multiple ad tech companies that employ different approaches.” You can end up seeing the item just a few times in some places, or being bombarded with the same ad in others.
These ads are not unlike being chased down by an annoying clerk—one that could even spoil your gift surprise if you share you internet connection with others in the same house.
What you can do
Fortunately, there ARE things you can to get rid of these ads. Here’s our round-up of tips:
- Clear your browsing history. Tossing your cookies never sounded so good! Clearing your browsing data will remove all of those tracking cookies. Repeat as necessary but fair warning: you will also lose helpful cookies along with the bad, meaning you’ll need to log in to your favorite websites again.
- Turn off cookies. All browsers give you the option to turn off these bits of tracking code. Here’s how to do it in Chrome, Edge, and Safari.
- Reset your advertising ID. Here’s where you say, “Wait, I have an advertising ID?” You do! You have an identifier whether you have Android and Apple devices. You can reset this whenever you’d like though. GroovyPost has a good blog telling you how to do it on either platform.
- Disable ad personalization in Google. As you know, Google is particularly good at showing you personalized ads—but you can make it harder by turning off Ads Personalization (a setting you can find here). Full disclosure: Google will give you a warning and make it sound like turning them off is a bad thing. Truth be told, it’s likely only bad for them. Go ahead and switch it off and see how you like seeing ads that aren’t tailored to you. If you change your mind, you can be sure you can turn it back on.
- Browse in private. The most popular web browsers have an option that lets you browse on the down-low. With this feature enabled your browser will ignore all cookies, including the ones for ads. Added bonus (depending on your perspective), your computer won’t record your browsing history either. How-to Geek has instructions on how to turn private browsing on. Hot tip: you can do this on your mobile devices too.
- Purge your Google ad history. Using Google’s My Activity tool, you can see all of the data Google has on you—including ad history. Clean out that information occasionally and it’ll help keep those ads under control.
- Turn off personalized ads from Amazon. Yup, you can turn off Amazon’s ad tracking as well. Head to amazon.com/adprefs. Just know that this change only impacts the device and browser you’re using when you do it. You’ll have to repeat on others you own or use.
- Install an ad blocker. You can easily find ad blockers for web browsers (for your computer and your mobile device) on the web. Tom’s Guide recently published a round-up of their favorite ad blockers and privacy extensions, but there are others out there as well—and it may take a little trial and error on your part to find the one you like the best.
For best results, a multi-prong approach is best for reducing or eliminating ad stalking. Once you’re successful you can take joy in seeing ads that are completely irrelevant to you (and know you’ve outsmarted your ad stalkers!).