Facebook Leads the Way in Personalized Advertising

By Tracey Dowdy

Ever do a little online shopping then later notice the exact item you were looking at on Amazon has somehow appeared in the side bar on Facebook? Trust me, it’s happening whether you notice or not.

How do they know what ads to send you? Simple – cookies. Virtually every website you visit drops code – or “cookies” – onto your computer. So, as you browse the Internet and click on a member site, it recognizes the cookie, notifies the ad network what you’re up to, then sends you a personalized ad.

But that’s not all. Member sites collate all that information into a database so it intuitively knows your preferences. That’s why the ads are so specific. Facebook takes things one step further because it doesn’t really have to do much to figure out what you like and don’t like. You do that job for them. Every status you Like or makes you Sad is logged. Every photo you Love or news story that makes you Angry is noted. We tell advertisers exactly who we are and what interests us with every click.

You may have also seen notifications that “Dan likes Buzzfeed” or “Jill likes The Washington Post.” Facebook is using your information to target your friends and drive them to the same sites. You have become a Facebook advertiser.

Right now it is possible to opt out of the targeted ads you see but that’s about to change. To opt out, go to your Facebook Settings and select Ads from the column on the left side of your screen. A page will open that allows you to customize your settings for the following areas:

  • Ads based on my use of websites and apps
  • Ads on apps and websites off of the Facebook Companies
  • Ads with my social actions
  • Ads based on my preferences

Simply choose No in the drop down menu for each of the categories. This will turn it off on all devices as the setting is Facebook – not device – specific. Keep in mind you’ll still see the same number of ads, but they won’t be customized according to your browsing history. Sites you visit can still collect information from you but they won’t be able to share it. Also, tracking is cookie-based and so is opting out. Sites drop cookies in your browser telling the site you don’t want to be tracked, so if you’re in the habit of using more than one browser you’ll have to opt on on each.

Maybe you’re one of the 26 percent of U.S. Internet users using ad blocking software. But – and it’s a big “but” – Facebook just announced they will be making it much harder to browse ad-free. Changes to the way Facebook loads ads on to it’s desktop website will make it much more difficult for the software to detect ads.

Andrew “Boz” Bosworth, vice president of Facebook’s ads and business platform, is up front about their ad policies. “Facebook is ad-supported. Ads are a part of the Facebook experience; they’re not a tack on.” Not a “tack on” indeed. This year alone, Facebook reported advertising revenue jumped a whopping 57% in the first quarter to $5.2 billion up from $3.3 billion.

These changes won’t impact mobile devices as they are less vulnerable to ad blocking software and consequently provide a whopping 84% of Facebook’s advertising revenue.

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.


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