How to Stop Online Ads from Following You

Ever feel like advertisements are stalking you on the web? Here’s how to throw them off your trail.
It’s hard to spend five minutes online without seeing at least one targeted ad. You start out shopping for a new blender or a couch and suddenly you’re seeing ads for everything searched for on Facebook, YouTube, and other sites.

Targeted ads are annoying because they follow you everywhere and creepy because they feel like an invasion of privacy. No one wants to think their phone or computer is tracking their every move, but targeted ads are less sinister than you may think.

When you browse the web, small files called cookies track what you search for, pages you visit, links that you click on, and even items you add to your shopping cart. Special algorithms crunch these cookies, along with other data from your web browser, and analyze your behavior. Advertisers use this information to predict what you like and show you ads they think are relevant. The only guaranteed way to stay untraceable online is to stay offline, but there are a few tactics you can use to shake targeted ads off your trail.


1. Clear Your Cookies

Once a week, go into your browser settings and clear your cookies. This will make it more difficult for advertisers to follow you around the web. If you’re serious about avoiding targeted ads, you can block cookies altogether (keep in mind, some sites require cookies to function properly).

In Chrome:

  1. Open a window in Chrome.
  2. In the top-right corner of the screen, click More (the three stacked dots) > More tools > Clear browsing data.
  3. Choose how far back you want to delete. To delete everything, tap All time.
  4. Check the boxes next to Cookies and other site data and then tap Clear data.

In Safari:

  1. Open a window in Safari.
  2. In the top-left corner of the screen, click Safari and then Preferences.
  3. Under the Privacy tab, select Manage Website Data.
  4. Tap Remove All.


2. Reset Your Advertising ID

All Apple and Android phones have an advertising ID that helps marketers track your browsing habits. The good news is, you can reset it at any time. If you’re on an Android phone, go to Settings > Google Settings and tap Ads > Reset Advertising ID. If you’re on an iPhone, go to Settings > Privacy and tap Advertising > Reset Advertising Identifier.


3. Go Incognito

Incognito mode is a good option for when you want a little more privacy, like if you’re shopping for a gift on a shared device. Pretty much every web browser has a private or incognito browsing mode that blocks cookies and keeps your search history from being recorded.

In Chrome:

  1. Open a window in Chrome.
  2. In the top-right corner of the screen, click More (the three stacked dots) > New Incognito Window.

In Safari:

  1. Open a window in Safari.
  2. In the top-left corner of your screen, click File > New Private Window.
  3. If you’re on an iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch, open Safari and tap the Show Pages icon. Then tap Private > Done.


4. Dig Into Your Google Ad Settings

Google now lets you see what information they know about you and why you’re being targeted by certain ads. In Ad Settings, you can turn off targeted ads completely (from Google) or turn off certain interest signals that determine which ads you see.

  1. Go to and make sure you’re signed in.
  2. From there, tap your Profile icon > Google Account.
  3. Choose Ad Settings under Personal info & privacy. Then select Manage Ad Settings.
  4. To turn off personalized ads completely, tap the switch at the top of the screen.
  5. To turn off ads by topic, scroll down a little further until you see “How your ads are personalized.”

Some of the topics might make sense, while others might seem totally random. Choose the topics you’d like to see personalized ads for, and turn off the ones you don’t.

While you’re at it, check out Google’s My Activity tool. You can see searches you’ve made, your browsing history, and most other activity associated with your Google account. To help keep targeted ads away, go through periodically and delete your data.

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