Stop Facebook ads and tracking and take back control

Facebook tracks you and displays adverts, but you can fight back!

You cannot completely stop Facebook, but there are steps you can take and settings you may not be aware of that enable you to exert some control over unwanted ads and tracking.

Adverts on the web - do you like them or hate them?

Facebook tracks everything you do when you are logged into the social networking website. You may not realise that the company also tracks you when you browse other websites too, through adverts, comments attached to other web pages, and other technologies.

This is a privacy concern for many people and the thought of someone tracking you is unpleasant.

A lot of information is gathered by Mr Zuckerberg’s company and it builds a profile that describes you and your interests. This is partly to enable it to provide services it thinks you might like, but if its information is wrong it might do things you don’t like.

Related: Take control of your Facebook news feed

It is also partly to provide advertisers with information about you too. Your personal details, likes and dislikes are what makes the company money, in a roundabout sort of way.

You may not have delved into the advertising side of Facebook, but there are important settings that you should be aware of and they affect how the company sees you and how much information you reveal about yourself.

You can limit the information you reveal and the picture Facebook and advertisers build up, and it might be preferable to letting them have everything they want.

To see how Facebook tracks you and builds a picture of you, click the menu button in Facebook and select Settings.

 Facebook settings

Select Adverts on the left and there are four sections on the right. You need to click each one in turn.

 Facebook adverts settings

The first section is Adverts based on my use of websites and apps. There is an on/off setting for showing interest based ads. If this is set to on, adverts are displayed that Facebook thinks you will like based on the picture it has built of you.

 Facebook advert settings

I find this is wrong and the picture of me is inaccurate. This leads to adverts I don’t like. Set it to Off and you will still see adverts, but they will not be based on what Facebook thinks you might like. I refuse to be labelled and prefer more general ads.

There may be good ads or bad ads, but at least some Facebook AI isn’t trying to second-guess what I’m thinking.

The next advert section is Ads on apps and websites off of the Facebook companies. This means adverts on other websites, not Facebook, Instagram, Messenger and other Facebook-own companies, but others you encounter while browsing the web.

As before, I prefer not to let Facebook try to guess what I’d like. Set the option to No to opt out of ads Facebook guesses you want to see. You will still see ads, but they will be general ones. Somehow they are less irritating.

 Facebook advert settings

The third advertising section isn’t about you, it is about your friends - Adverts with my social actions. This is a bit weird. It shows adverts to your friends based on what you like, and you see adverts based on what your friends like.

 Facebook advert settings

Why is it weird, well, suppose I’m a meat eater and like or view some page about burgers. Does that mean it will put ads for burgers and steaks on my vegetarian and vegan friends’ pages?

My friends are not mirror images of myself and it is wrong to allow my likes to influence the adverts that appear in front of their eyes. To benefit from setting this to No-one, your friends would have to change the setting so their likes don’t influence ads on your pages.

Click the fourth and final section in Adverts, Adverts based on my preferences, and then click the button, Visit Advert Preferences.

 Facebook advert settings

You are then shown a list of categories of interests. This is basically what Facebook thinks you will like.

 Facebook advert settings

Expand each of the sections and you can see the interests. In the Food and Drink section Facebook thinks I am interested in Shreddies and walnuts. That’s weird. I cannot recall ever having expressed an interest in either, so it is a mystery where that has come from.

You can expand each section and mouse over each interest. A cross appears at the right and you can delete the interest. This will prevent adverts on that subject from being shown to you.

There is a problem with this and if you remove the subjects you are not interested in, the ones left are the ones you like best. This enables Facebook to get a more accurate picture of your likes and dislikes.

Related: Which apps are accessing your Facebook account?

It is therefore tempting not to change things that are wrong, so that Facebook’s picture of me is inaccurate. This is a decision you will need to make yourself. Do you edit the list to give Facebook a more accurate picture of you and make adverts more relevant, or leave it as it is with wrong assumptions about you and an inaccurate picture?

You could be even more devious and add random topics using the Add a preference box at the top.

After going through all these advertising sections you might see some changes in the adverts you see. Whether you choose to see ads about your interests or more general ads about a wide range of subjects is up to you.

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