Q. How can I block Facebook from posting everything I look at on a website? For example, if I go on Amazon and look to buy something, that same item is posted on my Facebook status like it’s spying on me. Same thing if Ii go on eBay. Whatever I look at is posted on my status asking if I am still interested in bidding on it. How do I block this? Thanks!
-Joanne from Nashville, Tennessee, listens to The Kim Komando Show on 99.7 FM WWTN
A. The good news is that what you’re seeing aren’t actually status updates, which means your Facebook friends don’t see them. They’re ads Facebook is putting into your News Feed that only you can see. Of course, how they’re getting there is still a worry.
Many online companies are members of ad networks, and each ad network puts a bit of code called a “cookie” on your computer. When you visit one of the member sites, the site recognizes the cookie and lets the ad network know where you are so it can send you ads.
Even worse, the member sites share what you do on their sites to build a database of what you like and don’t like, or even specific items you looked at. This makes it easier for the ad network to send you ads that it thinks you’ll click on.
Of course, it’s a two-way street. Just like Facebook can show you ads from other sites, it’s sending information on you to those sites as well.
What makes the Facebook side worrying is that most websites have to figure out what you’re thinking based on what you do. On Facebook, you tell it exactly what you’re thinking.
Every “like,” news story click, status update and photo caption is a bit of information that advertisers would love to add to your file. And you’d be surprised how much money it can make them.
In 2013, online tracking and targeted advertising practice helped Internet advertisers rake in a staggering $42.8 billion. And for 2014 that climbed to $49.45 billion, or a 15% jump.
Naturally, you don’t see a penny of it. You’re just concerned with what happens to your information if a shady employee or hacker gets a hold of it. Or you just don’t like the idea of being tracked.
That’s where we find the one good thing about ad networks. Instead of visiting every company online and telling them you don’t want to be tracked, you can just opt out of the ad network and it applies to every company in that network.
Facebook and 120 or so other major companies, including Amazon and eBay, are part of the Digital Advertising Alliance. You can use a tool on the DAA’s website to opt out of “online behavioral advertising.”
The tool will scan your computer to see what companies are already customizing ads to target you. It can also tell if you’ve opted out of any online tracking for those companies in the past.
It’s simple to choose a few companies and sites, like Facebook, where you don’t want to see targeted ads. Or you can click the “Choose all companies” button at the bottom to opt out of targeted ads for every participating network member. Simple!
Now, opting out also doesn’t stop these sites from collecting some information about you, but it does mean they won’t share it with other companies. So, you won’t see ads in Facebook for things you’ve looked for on Amazon or eBay. It also limits what any one company potentially knows about you, and keeps a single ad company from building up a detailed profile.
Because tracking is cookie-based, so is opting out. The site will put a cookie in your browser saying you don’t want to be tracked.
This means you’ll need to run the tool in every browser you use so they’re all covered. Facebook is one exception. If you opt out in one browser, it will honor your opt-out whenever you log into Facebook, no matter the browser.
There are still many companies online that don’t participate in the Digital Advertising Alliance, so opting out won’t change the way they behave. One way to put a stop to them is to disable third-party cookies in your browsers – you’ll just need to wait until after you run the DAA’s tool or it won’t work correctly.
Ready to stop the tracking?
Your browser isn’t the only way advertiser can track you on your mobile gadget. There are also ads in apps.
You shouldn’t only be worried about what advertisers and Facebook can see about you. Strangers could find out more about you than you think if you have the wrong Facebook security settings.