The Truth Behind Targeted Ads

It seems as though the more we evolve as a society with technology, the more our phones know about us. We've all been in the situation where we've been looking for something online, or just thinking about it, and before we know it there are 20 advertisements on the same exact product — from shoes to fast food — showing up on our social media pages. But, why does this happen?

This specific kind of advertising which uses our interests and information to promote products and items to us is called "targeted advertising." In the simplest form, targeted ads promote things to us based on our likes, dislikes, and preferences by tracking our data on the Internet (via GFC Global). Whether we like it or not, the Internet is constantly tracking our data and what we look at, like, and view. Then, they sell it to companies for high profits, and those companies use the information to try and sway us to purchase their products (via SendPulse). 

Targeted advertising gets really personal information

Some people wonder if targeted advertising is an invasion of their privacy, but because we all willingly post things online, it's technically not (via Digital Trends). While the information used by companies has to do with our online searches, which they collect via search engines, they also track things like our demographics and likenesses. The way they get this information is oftentimes through social media, but can also include who we talk to and interact with online (via Micro Knowledge). 

The way most websites collect our data is through cookies, which are basically little files that store information about your Internet activities or actions. These are then transferred to third-party companies and services (via Send Pulse). While targeted advertising isn't meant to be malicious, it can have a negative impact that companies don't even realize, i.e., someone getting constant reminders of a traumatic event via ads (via Vox).

There are several types of targeted ads

Targeted ads are more than just using random information you search online. There are different types of targeted advertising:

Demographic targeting: This is when companies use specifics about a person's likeness and persona to figure out their likes and dislikes. This can be anything from your age to gender to occupation to culture/nationality and more (via Send Pulse). 

Behavioral targeting: The "most common" type of targeted ads. This is when companies use data from your online searches and Internet use to find out what you'd like to see (via Criteo). 

Contextual targeting: This is when the ads match up to the context of the website or things you are doing. For example, if someone is on a beauty blog, a company for hair care products or makeup may advertise their products there, as it fits into context with the niche. 

Geographic targeting: This has to do with where a person lives. If someone lives in New York City, they are more likely to see ads for activities and attractions in NYC.

Time targeting: As the name suggests, it's connected to times. For example, when people are more likely to be commuting or using their phones, specific ads will run. From 4pm to 8pm, many people are commuting home from work, so companies opt for this time slot to show ads (via SendPulse). 

So, how can you stop targeted ads?

If the whole idea of targeted ads creeps you out, there are a few ways you can combat them and try to get away from the Internet basically selling your data. One way to do this is to make sure that you are frequently cleaning out your cookies on web browsers. All Internet browsers, no matter which one you use, track and store cookies. If you delete your cookies and clear them out, there's less data on you to use (via Micro Knowledge).

Additionally, on cell phones, there are ways to reset your advertising ID. On Android and Apple phones, there is a specific advertising ID assigned to you, so when you use your phone to browse, it can track via this ID. On Android devices, you can reset your ID via the ads menu inside the Google settings app. On iPhones, you reset your ID via the settings app in the privacy menu (via Micro Knowledge).