Recently, I was browsing through Crate and Barrel’s website to order a rug online. I looked at different kinds of rugs, and spent some time doing more research on the ones I liked the most. Then I closed Crate and Barrel’s website and opened up my Facebook page. To my surprise, I saw an ad displaying Crate and Barrel rugs on my Facebook page – in fact, it was displaying the exact same rug that I had spent the most amount of time looking at online.

This definitely bothered me, and I was curious to find out how Facebook can figure out that I am interested in Crate and Barrel rugs.

I did some research to understand how Facebook uses your web browsing for targeted advertisement. Facebook’s ads are targeted to users based on their user profiles, and their activities on Facebook such as liking or sharing a page or product. For example, you want to know what products your friends like. So, Facebook pairs up ads and friends, and shows you what your friends like or share. This way it can determine your interests in specific products or services, and send you ads customized to your interests.

Facebook also shows you ads depending on your activities on other websites or apps. The advertisers can reach out to you on Facebook based on what you do on their websites or apps. Facebook’s online ad exchange service, FBX, helps advertisers display targeted ads through the use of cookies. Facebook uses cookies to show you targeted ads by placing cookies in your web browser or app. These cookies track all your browsing data and send it back to Facebook. Information will be sent to Facebook when someone accesses Facebook page or accesses a third party website that has connection with Facebook.

Now let’s come back to how I was able to see Crate and Barrel ads on my Facebook page. When I visited the Crate and Barrel website, it placed a cookie on my browser. It tracked what products I accessed on the website, and what are some of the products that interested me the most. Facebook was able to read all that information from the cookie because Crate and Barrel is one of the advertisers on Facebook. As a result, it showed me Crate and Barrel ads on my Facebook page. Facebook’s advertising partners provide information back to Facebook on how you used their website or apps.

They also use cookies to determine whether Facebook had shown their ads on your page, and how well it performed.

Another development that has happened recently is the announced tie-up between FBX and Google’s DoubleClick. Google’s DoubleClick ad-buying software will now allow clients to buy retargeted ads on Facebook. This allows Facebook to access a larger ad-base, and also allows advertisers to use DoubleClick as a one-stop shopping solution. Interestingly enough, the day this deal was announced, Facebook shares reached a 2013 high of $54.22, but have since dropped off.

If, like me, targeted ads bother you, then these are some of the steps you can take to protect yourself from these advertisements:

  • Opt out of Facebook ads: If you do not want Facebook to show you ads based on your activities on advertiser’s website then you can click on the “Opt out” feature on Facebook. On your iPhone or mobile device you can opt out of targeted advertisement by selecting “Limit Ad tracking”. You can refer to Facebook Data Use Policy and About Ads for more information.
  • Disable cookies on your browser: As I had mentioned earlier, cookies track your web browsing information, which can be used for targeted advertisements. You can disable cookies on your browsers to prevent advertisers from collecting your information. If you are using Chrome, then Select Chrome Menu -> Go to Settings-> Select Advanced Settings ->In the “Privacy” section select“Content Settings” -> Now in the “Cookies  section” you can change the cookies setting.You can also disable cookies on IE, Safari or Firefox by changing your browser settings similarly.
  • Install AdBlock: Adblock plus is an open source content filtering and ad blocking applications. It prevents social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter from transmitting your data after you leave those sites. Here’s how to install Adblock plus. After the installation make sure to change your filter preferences to Easy Privacy. To do this go to the Adblock Plus website and click on the link to “Add EasyPrivacy to Adblock Plus”. This will take you to Adblock plus website. Click on “Add” and you are all set.
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