When I deleted Facebook, I wanted all of that ad targeting to go away. So not only did I erase my Facebook account, I also installed tracker blockers on my computer browser and mobile devices to prevent advertisers from using web cookies and invisible tracking pixels like Facebook’s. (For instructions on how to shake ad targeting more thoroughly, see this previous column.)
The extra steps worked. The onslaught of targeted online ads stopped.
“If you have the tracker blocker and deleted your Facebook account, you’ve exited,” said Gabriel Weinberg, the chief executive of DuckDuckGo, which offers internet privacy tools including a web browser that blocks trackers.
Facebook says it does not build profiles on people who are not on the social network, nor does it serve targeted ads to them. “Sites and apps send us information about the people who visit them, regardless of whether that person has a Facebook profile,” the company said in a statement. “If you aren’t a Facebook user, we don’t know who you are and don’t build any kind of profile on you.”
Advertisers still have methods other than Facebook to chase me around, but there are economic reasons for them to give up. With Facebook’s tools, it was relatively affordable and effective for them to track and target me. Without those, it gets a lot more costly.
“You might be too expensive for them to chase,” said Michael Priem, the chief executive of Modern Impact, an advertising firm in Minneapolis.
My spending dropped. A lot.
Facebook has often defended targeted ads by saying that internet users are annoyed when they see irrelevant ads. I disagree. Yes, the ads I now see have nothing to do with me — but the benefit was watching my spending drop immensely.
About a year ago, I recall shopping on the site for Taylor Stitch, a men’s clothing retailer. I looked at a coat and closed the window after deciding not to buy it. Then over the next weeks, an ad for that coat loaded on Facebook, inside Instagram and on other websites. Guess what happened? I bought it.