Have you ever had an ad show up on your phone or computer about an automobile you were just discussing with your friends? How about sponsored Facebook posts about a TV show you were just talking about with your co-workers near the water cooler?
These are targeted ads and can be creepy, too creepy at times. Some people are suggesting that this data is being gathered in the sneakiest way.
They believe the Facebook app is "listening" to your conversations through your phone's microphone. But is this really happening?
Is Facebook secretly spying on you?
Believe it or not, Facebook says it's not using your phone's mic to spy on you. Shocker! The social media giant has even released a statement about it.
Facebook said, "Facebook does not use your phone's microphone to inform ads or to change what you see in News Feed. Some recent articles have suggested that we must be listening to people's conversations in order to show them relevant ads. This is not true. We show ads based on people's interests and other profile information - not what you're talking out loud about."
That might be true, however, you are being tracked one way or another.
This is how you're being tracked offline
Whenever you are shopping in brick-and-mortar stores and giving them personally identifying information, you're being tracked. For example, when I shop at my favorite grocery store I punch in my phone number that's tied to my club membership each time I buy something to receive advertised prices and discounts.
When you enter information like this when making a purchase, or your email address or customer ID, data brokers are able to obtain your purchase history. They sell this information to other companies that are looking for consumers to provide targeted ads to.
The data that identifies you can also be matched with information associated with your Facebook account. One way to outsmart data brokers is to associate your loyalty memberships to phone numbers or email addresses that you never use.
Another thing that you could do is contact every data broker that Facebook gets information from and opt out. But let's face it, that would take a herculean effort. The simpler solution is to opt out of the ad network used by Facebook. Keep reading to learn how.
How to opt out
There is 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 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. Easy peasy!
Now, opting out 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? Click here to learn about the Digital Advertising Alliance's tracking opt-out tool.
You shouldn't just 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. Click here to learn how to lock down your Facebook profile from beginning to end.
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