Opting Out of Ad Networks on Social Media

by Nate Ryan

Opting Out of Ad Networks on Social Media

Advertising is a necessary part of the internet. It helps keep many websites and services free to use, and without it, we would be subjected to far more pop-ups and other intrusive ads. However, advertising can also be invasive and frustrating. It’s no secret that ad networks and search engines track our online behavior to serve us targeted ads. But what many people don’t know is that they can opt-out of this tracking.

Hyper targeting ads creates a false reality where the more you see an ad, the more likely you are to rate the product positively. Studies have shown  the more data you have online, the more you are influenced and the higher the risk of your data being leaked or breached. 

As of now, The American Data Privacy and Protection Act is a comprehensive national privacy regime that would require companies to collect only the data necessary to provide their products or services, bill proponent Common Cause said, and would allow consumers to correct or delete their data. There are also prohibitions on discriminatory data practices/algorithms/ad delivery. As time goes on, more laws will strengthen people’s rights to their own data. It’s difficult, because overall lawmakers don’t have a strong understanding yet of the effects of technology and it’s effects on society. We are still playing catch up. 

Social Media Advertising Collects a LOT of Data On You. Turn it off.

Facebook (Meta) has a lot of intel on you. With that, their advertising is highly personalized. Recently, a whistleblower’s revelations made it clear to consumers how far behind they were in the conversation concerning the casual use of their own data. It was a rude awakening, and people started focusing on learning responsibility towards their own privacy.

Facebook shows you ads based on the information they have collected from your profile and your activity on the platform including your location, relationship status, and Page likes. They even use information they have about your Facebook friends to show you more relevant ads. Advertisers can also segment their targeted ads based on certain demographic characteristics that can be found on your Facebook profile including your employer, job title, schools you’ve attended, and relationship status. They also have a section that shows you a list of the advertisers using your activity or information. You have been included in these advertisers’ audiences based on your information or off-Facebook activity. The audience lists contain contact information that has been hashed so the user identities are not revealed, but they can match users with advertising identifier information like your purchase history. These all have settings you can turn off individually. While data will always be collected around you, it makes sense to make it a best practice to familiarize yourself with all social media settings, -including ads, and setting them tightly for you and all family members. 

What Happens Now?

Now that you have opted out of personalized advertising, how will your digital experience change? Just to be clear, opting out of personalized ads does not mean you will never see an advertisement again. You will always see ads because ads are how websites make money. Ads can still be targeted with information like your general location or the content of the website you’re visiting, but not based on your behaviors, items you have searched for, or ad campaigns you’ve interacted with on Instagram. 

However, you have taken back control of your personal data. You have more control over the things you buy, the decisions you make, and the information you share with the world. 

Alex Brown, Co-Chair of the FTC Antitrust Litigation team stated , “Anytime you are developing or fine-tuning a regulatory need, you want to be careful to strike the right balance. You want to make rules that companies can actually comply with, rules that deter behavior that is actually harmful to consumers and you want to make sure that you are not negatively impacting competition in the process.” In other words, you don’t want to punish the consumer while regulating privacy, and that’s always the balancing act. That’s the struggle. 

We are in the frontier of data litigation, and burgeoning industries like AI, and it is actually up to both the FTC, and the consumer to start exploring limits. Convenience comes at a cost, but it will become easier over time to figure out where the lines are drawn, and where we are comfortable having our data used, and by whom. There’s a much bigger difference between our pharmacist tracking our prescriptions than with our insurance company trying to track our data to “catch” us in unhealthy habits. We are starting to differentiate now.

by Nate Ryan Nov 15, 2022