On Thursday morning Facebook announced a host of changes to its advertisements, including tracking on sites outside of Facebook.com, and an option for you to adjust your ad preferences.
Currently, the ads you see on Facebook are based on your activity within the social media network. Expressing an interest in a certain band, or liking a page about “Game of Thrones” will influence what type of targeted ads show up in your feed. Soon, Facebook says, the site will also begin using information from the websites and apps you visit outside Facebook, too.
You can block that tracking, and ads based on your extra-Facebook Web surfing, by following these instructions from the Digital Advertising Allowance. In fact, that website lets you block a whole bunch of Internet advertisers who are tracking your movements, too.
This is a common practice among large media companies, who use little tracking mechanisms called cookies to see what you’re doing outside of their site so that they can better target ads toward you within it. Google, Yahoo, and Microsoft, to name a few, are all currently using this advertising strategy.
Separate from the cookie announcement, Facebook is also premiering a new tool, accessible via every ad on Facebook, explaining why you’re being shown an ad, and allowing you to adjust your interests to prevent or encourage targeted marketing.
With the premiere of the ad preferences tool, you can have more control over how Facebook interprets your activity. Say you write a Facebook post, asking your friends if they have extra tent you can borrow for a camping trip. You might not be a big camper. In fact, you could just be tagging along with some friends on a once-a-year trip. Facebook’s current model may interpret that post as a sign that you need camping supplies. If an ad for that shows up in your feed, you can simply click through and adjust the settings in your advertising profile to indicate that you are not really an outdoors person.
As a result, you’ll get ads that are more relevant to you—one of the top things Facebook says people tell the company they want to see.
What Facebook doesn’t mention as a request, but I suspect is far more overwhelming, is that people don’t want to see ads at all. Let alone ones that creep on their personal information to reach them. But don’t expect ads to disappear from Facebook anytime soon.
It’s likely the company—which has long been plagued by accusations of exploiting people’s personal information for advertising revenue—has come up with a new strategy to win people over: Getting individuals to participate in their advertising program, so they feel like they have a smidgen of personal control. Facebook gains the trust of their users, and advertisers get more relevant information (for which they may, in fact, pay even more money). Ultimately, for you and me? We just get less irrelevant advertisements about tents.
The advertising preferences tool will be available for US Facebookers in the next couple of weeks.