Beyond Facebook – How targeted advertising works across the web

At some point when using a web browser, you’ve probably had the following experience:

  • You look something up in a search engine and click a few links to product pages, review sites, etc.
  • You then navigate to another website, like Facebook or someone’s blog, seemingly unrelated to that previous search.
  • There, you notice specific advertisements for the same item you had previously searched for.

This practice is known as targeted advertising, and it’s ubiquitous across the web. Unlike traditional forms of advertising such as billboards or even TV commercials, targeted ads are enhanced by massive data gathering operations that might collect everything from your search history to your phone’s current battery level.

Logging on with Facebook or Google credentialsLogging on to a service with your Facebook or Google credentials is convenient, but it can come at a cost.

Whereas two people watching the Super Bowl in separate markets will see many of the same TV spots, they would have completely different experiences when navigating Facebook, Twitter or almost any site monetized by Google AdSense, based on previous online activity. Advertisers – and the social networks and search engines they support – contend the practice serves up more relevant material than the banner ads of old, while many privacy watchdogs label it surveillance capitalism.

No matter what you think of targeted advertising, it’s worth understanding at a technical level if only to grasp the possible risks. Here are a few pointers to keep in mind:

Be careful logging into other websites with your social accounts

Logging on to a third-party service with your Facebook or Google credentials is convenient, but it can come at a cost. The recent Cambridge Analytica scandal involved data leakage from users signing into an app with their Facebook credentials, which permitted extensive access to their accounts.

Consider signing in with your email address instead. Also, be sure to limit what you publicly post to your social accounts, since those items can also be easily rolled into targeted ad campaigns.

Use browser extensions and toggles to cover your tracks

It’s possible to have a much more discreet experience when using a web browser. Numerous third-party ad blockers and anti-tracking extensions can block certain scripts from latching onto your data. As an added benefit, they usually speed up your browsing since there’s less to load on each page.

It might also be worth checking your browser settings. Many browsers have toggles for tracking, cookies and JavaScript (JS). Disabling cookies and JS is one of the most effective ways to stop targeted ads (as well as many types of JS-delivered threats), but it will profoundly change what you see and disable many features.

Install security software

Comprehensive security suites such as Total Defense Ultimate Internet Security provide an extra layer of protection. It defends against spyware, ransomware and other risks while giving you a cleaner, faster PC overall. Visit the product page for more info.