If You’re Creeped out by Those Weirdly Accurate Facebook Ads, Here’s How to Turn Them Off

Data is valuable—don't give all yours away.

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Ever scrolled through social media only to find some weirdly relevant Facebook ads on the side of your page? OK, sometimes we have to admit we love them—like when they introduce us to our new favorite store. But a lot of times, they’re just a little too creepy. (Here’s what your Facebook posts say about your personality.)

Whenever you surf the Internet, bits of codes called “cookies” remember where you’ve been. Third-party ad networks pair up with those website to track where you’ve been, right down to the page. They then share your detailed history with advertisers to figure out which ads you’d be most interested in. After all, targeted ads mean you’re more likely to click and give those companies traffic.

So you know how you decided against an overpriced pair of shoes, only to find them taunting you in ads on a totally different site? Yep, those were cookies at work.

But Facebook takes the creepiness to a new level, especially if you’ve made the mistake of linking it to third-party apps. Websites try to guess why you’re on a site (maybe you were desperate to know a football score, or maybe you were Googling it for a friend), but social media can dig a little deeper. Social media sites know exactly which news stories catch your eye, which statuses you react to, and what you post yourself, according to USA Today.

For advertisers, that’s a goldmine of information. And while Facebook ads make your experience more personal (remember the days of ignoring totally irrelevant ads?), those targeted advertisements also mean you’re giving away information every time you scroll and click, even if you don’t share too much information.

Facebook is totally open about why it picks each ad for you. When you see a sponsored Facebook post, hit the little down arrow on the top right of the post. Select “Why am I seeing this ad?” and the site will give you a breakdown of what the company was trying to target. Maybe you’ve liked a similar band, or maybe it’s because you’re in a certain age group and state. (Did you know there are four types of Facebook users?)

Luckily, there’s a way to turn the tracking off if it weirds you out.

Go to Settings > Ads > Ad preferences.

Now you can browse around and choose what you want Facebook to know. You can turn off all Internet-based ads when you’re on Facebook and tell the site not to share your ad preferences with other companies.

Or if you just want to limit the ads but don’t need to go cold turkey, browse around the “Your interests” and “Your information” options. On those tabs, you can see exactly what Facebook knows—or thinks it knows—you like. You can take away interests that aren’t relevant to you (or whose ads you just don’t want to see), and keep advertisers from knowing personal information like your relationship status or job. If you really want to keep your information safe, consider deleting photos. 

Of course, adjusting your ad preferences doesn’t mean you’ll stop seeing ads. Facebook will use as much information about you as it can, and it will look at your friends’ pages if it can’t find much about you, according to Lifehacker. Once you’ve stopped targeted ads, find out how to opt out of everything else in your life.

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Marissa Laliberte
Marissa Laliberte-Simonian is a London-based associate editor with the global promotions team at WebMD’s Medscape.com and was previously a staff writer for Reader's Digest. Her work has also appeared in Business Insider, Parents magazine, CreakyJoints, and the Baltimore Sun. You can find her on Instagram @marissasimonian.