Big Brother is watching you. And inundating you with online advertisements.

Ever scrolled Facebook and came across the same annoying ad? Or read a helpful article online (like this one) and suddenly copped a bright flashing pop-up marketing cheap travel deals? Or have you noticed a concerning trend of ads that seem to be promoting the exact services or products you’ve recently been considering? (How did Google know my need for 6-inch deep baking pans?!) Is it a coincidence? – No – it’s cookies.

Not the tasty choc chip types either. Internet cookies are an online paper trail you leave. All your past searches, website interactions, and even Facebook friends and your location are helping online algorithms figure out what ticks your box – and to come up with advertisements to target you.

Why do I see repetitive ads online?

These ads are a clever marketing tool for advertisers, but an annoyance for the people who just want to surf the Internet in peace.

Behavioural targeting is a strategy advertisers have been using for years. It happens as a result of your Internet browsing. Whenever you visit a website, cookies on these websites will track your personal data such as your IP address and search history. These cookies help to make your browsing experience more personalised. But the downside? You’re left with ads that seem to follow you everywhere.

5 ways to stop Ads following you online

No one likes being followed. Especially by intrusive ad campaigns. The good news is, you can reduce and even stop ads from following you online with some of these useful tips.

1. Try an Ad Blocker

Most web browsers track your internet activity. For this reason, you should look at getting an ad blocker.

Ad blockers do exactly that – they block ads. Specifically, they alter or remove advertising content on any webpage by either blocking ads completely, leaving a blank space where an ad would appear, or by hiding parts of an ad. Depending on what app blocking software you use, you have the option to block on-page or pop-up ads on common browsers such as Chrome, Safari, Firefox, Explorer, and Opera.

Popular, and trusted, ad blockers include:

  • Adblock/Adblock Plus (Chrome, Edge, Firefox, Safari, Opera, Android, iOS)
  • Ghostery (Chrome, Edge, Firefox, Safari)
  • AdGuard (Windows, Mac, Android, iOS)
  • AdLock (Chrome, Windows, Android)

Most browsers such as Opera and Firefox include a default ad-blocking feature in their extensions. Simply navigate to your browser’s extensions and enable or allow ad blocking.

2. Get a VPN

You’ve probably heard the term VPN over the past year, as Australians are increasingly concerned about their privacy and security online. When looking for a solution to that problem, often the solution given is “get a VPN”.

Also known as a “Virtual Private Network”, a VPN is like a virtual smokescreen. It creates a private network where all your data and browsing history is hidden.

This is where the privacy component comes in – it’s almost impossible to trace the source of your activity on the internet beyond the server where the VPN is located. And because third party eyes can’t track you down, they also can’t learn anything about you from your internet traffic.

A VPN works by hiding your IP address, making it hard for anyone to track your computer. Because of this, a VPN is great to use when in public spaces or when using public wifi.

Best of all, it prevents third-party advertising by blocking or flagging advertising material from websites. It can be used on both computer browsers and mobiles, and gives an added layer of security by protecting your private data.

3. Go Incognito

One simple hack to remove pesky online ads is by using your browser’s Incognito Mode or Private Browsing option.

Incognito Mode allows your internet browser to ignore cookies which will prevent advertisers from tracking you; blocking ads, analytics, and social trackers to leave you ad-free.

Alternatively, you can also turn off all cookies on your browser/s. However, as with using Incognito Mode, the downside of disabling cookies is that it will also wipe any past saved log-ins and passwords – so keep that in mind.

4. Turn off Google Tracking

If you’re one of the estimated 2.65 billion people who use Google Chrome as your primary browser, then take heed.

Google loves you. Google loves to know all about you. Google also likes to send you irritating ads.

Opt out of Google’s annoying – and controversial – feature that stores your private data by turning off Google tracking:

  1. Sign into your Google Account
  2. Go to the “Personal Info & Privacy” section and click “Your Personal Info”
  3. On the left-hand pane, click on “Manage your Google Activity” and select “Go To Activity Controls”
  4. Pause your “Location History” and “Web and App Activity” toggles.

5. Opt-out

Every time you sign up for a social media account, you’re giving those websites access to your data – and an excuse to send you targeted ads.

Facebook is one of those websites that are tracking you and using this information to send you those bothersome ads in your news feed.

You can turn off ad personalisation on Facebook by opening the “Settings” menu, locating “Ads” and then under “Ad Settings” opt out of targeted advertising by selecting “Not Allowed”.

This will stop your online activity and information from being shared with third-party websites so you won’t end up with ads following you.

Another way to stop seeing ads on Facebook is by clicking on the three dots next to the ad and either reporting it or selecting “Why you’re seeing this ad?” and following the prompts to stop ad personalisation.

Websites are eager to use and share your data to help their advertising campaigns. Fortunately, there are ways you can stop the onslaught of ads from hindering your online escapades. Keep in mind, though, that most ad blockers and ad blocking tools won’t stop advertisements from playing in videos (for example YouTube) but they might instead show less-relevant ads. Another helpful tip is to regularly clear your browser cache and cookies. This is the computer equivalent to throwing trackers off the scent, and can help reduce recurring ads. If you’re sick of the flood of information being fed to you every time you log online, then try these tips and see how you go.