It’s OK to have mixed feelings about Facebook. On one hand, it keeps you connected with friends, family and local events. On the other hand, a series of privacy scandals, including this week's revelation that hundreds of millions of passwords were stored on an unencrypted document, have rocked faith in the popular social media network. One complaint that often pops up is the feeling that you’re being followed.
I’m not talking about your friends and family following you. I’m talking about that unsettling feeling that advertisers are tracking your every move on Facebook. You shop around online in the morning for a new pair of shoes, log into Facebook later that day and then see the same pair of shoes you were looking at earlier staring back at you from an ad.
We’re going to focus on tightening up the settings of Facebook that involve advertising. You have more control than ever before and it’s time to take charge.
Yes, ads are following you on Facebook
The bothersome ads we’re scrutinizing are called targeted ads, but you can put a stop to them. Facebook offers up an explainer on how it dishes up ads based on your activity through Facebook and Instagram (if your accounts are linked), as well as your visits to other websites, including some retailers. Now that you know what’s going on, let’s tweak your settings and get you out of the advertising bull's-eye.
Adjust your Facebook ad preferences
These instructions use Facebook’s desktop website, but you can also access ad preferences through your Facebook app. From the site, click the on the downward arrow in the upper corner and click on Settings. Click on Ads on the left side. This opens the "Your ad preferences page."
Let’s start with the Your Interests section. Click on this to see a list of topics Facebook thinks you’re interested in based on your activity. For example, my interests included everything from Colorado to plant nurseries. You can hide ads associated with an interest by hovering over it and clicking on the X in the box.
Once you’ve gone through Interests, check out the Advertisers section. This works just like with Interests. You can choose to hide ads from particular advertisers, which is useful if you’re annoyed by a particular ad popping up all the time in your feed.
Tweak the information Facebook uses to target ads
The next section on tap is called "Your information." This is the data Facebook uses to help advertisers target ads at you. The categories include relationship status, employer, job title and education. The toggle switches on the side let you choose whether or not to allow advertiser to use these. Feel free to turn them all off. Also take a peek at "Your categories" in this same section. You can nix these as well by clicking on the X.
Adjust your Facebook ad settings
The previous sections of your ad preferences are interesting, but now we’re getting to the big guns. Click on the "Ad settings" section to expand it. Here is where we can make substantial changes to get rid of that unsettling "I’m being followed by ads" feeling.
Ads based on data from partners: If you already see the words "Not allowed" here, then you’re good to go. Otherwise, expand this setting, which controls "ads based on data we receive from partners about your offline activity." Yeah, that does sound a little creepy. In the drop down box, choose "Not allowed."
Ads based on your activity on Facebook Company Products that you see elsewhere: This section applies to websites, apps and device that use Facebook’s services to serve up ads outside of Facebook. This is why you might see the same ads lurking on both Facebook and on seemingly unrelated websites. Look for the drop-down menu at the bottom and select "Not allowed."
Ads that include your social actions: This setting lets you control whether or not Facebook can use your activity in ads aimed at other people. For example, a Facebook friend might see an ad for a page that you’ve liked on the service. The two options in the drop-down menu here are "Only my friends" or "No One." Choose "No One" to keep yourself out of these sorts of ads.
There’s one final section to your ad preferences settings. "Hide ad topics" lets you block ads related to the potentially sensitive topics of alcohol, parenting or pets. You can choose to hide these for six months, a whole year or permanently.
While some people are choosing to ditch Facebook, there are also some compelling reasons to stay. If you’re in the stay camp, then you can make the experience more comfortable by adjusting your advertising preferences. Following these steps won’t stop ads, but at least you won’t see the same pair of shoes tracking your every move, begging you to buy them.
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Privacy issues have been plaguing Facebook, turning once-dedicated fans into ex-Facebook users. If you're contemplating dropping the social-media giant from your life, but still need a little convincing, then check out our reasons why people are leaving Facebook.