This Is How Internet Ads Follow You Around

Internet ads are so invasive. I don’t blame you for thinking that Facebook is listening to us talk. It’s probably not, but the fact that ads pop up -for many people after simply talking about something near their phones- makes it all questionable. But Facebook definitely is helping ad networks track us across the internet and your apps. They follow us even when we’re logged out, in incognito, using a different browser, or on a new device.

One important way is Facebook’s trackers, which are embedded on any site that integrates Facebook “like” buttons, Facebook page widgets, or other social tools:

You’re logged in to Facebook. You visit a website and it has Facebook’s tracking pixel (or simply a ‘Like’ button) installed, which lets Facebook know you’re there. Later on you visit Facebook, and your newsfeed contains adverts based on what you were looking at earlier

There are a few ways to minimize personalization. You can reset your phone’s unique identifier:

You install an app on your phone, and then sign in to it using one of your online accounts. You guessed it: your device ID is now associated with that account. Later on you see ads based on your apps when you’re using the account on your computer

N.B. Apple, Android and Windows mobile devices all let you disable or reset your device ID. This won’t stop you seeing ads, but it will reduce the amount of personalisation that can follow you from one app to another

Unfortunately, we can’t control all tracking—Facebook and Google can collect data on us even if we don’t have an account, by scooping up our friends’ phone contacts or by logging usual browser data. This is the kind of invasive tracking and data collection that prompted the European Union to recently enact GDPR. So all those “we’ve changed our privacy policy” emails are at least a good start.

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