Minimise targeted ads on social media

Social media platforms build profiles of us to better target us with ads. Learn how to minimise targeting and make this data collection useless!

woman looking at hundreds of ads on a wall

We, like you, are fed up with how companies exploit data to target ads online. We’ve filed legal complaints over it, campaigned against it, called out empty promises, written letters, made gifs, formed alliances, and more. And we will continue this fight – but we need your help.

PI is often asked how to stop companies from targeting online ads at them. Every day there are stories about how random political actors and interest groups are attempting to influence people’s thinking through online advertising. Social media platforms play a key role in targeting ads at you – and they facilitate the use of data in ways that you probably wouldn’t like.

There are steps you can take to minimise all of this – and by doing so, show companies that you don’t want to be targeted with ads. These explainers show you step-by-step how to reduce the ways in which companies are able to target you with ads.*

At PI we think strong privacy settings and minimal collection of data should be the default. We’re working to make sure that the way data is used by political actors and advertisers does not facilitate the breakdown of democratic structures – and social platforms are important players in this work.



Taking these steps will not solve everything. Data will still be collected by companies and will still be used in advertising. But these steps can help making the advertising less targeted, meaning that an advertiser, in theory, will knows less about you. On top of these recommendations, there are different tools you can use to prevent the tracking of your online activity such as ad blockers. These steps are a start – and it’s worth doing. 



Ad targeting

Ads are "targeted" when they are aimed at an audience with specific traits based on the product or service that is being advertised.


Ads personalisation

Ads are "personalised" when they are targeted to a specific person based on their perceived or inferred interests or characteristics. These interests and characteristics are themselves derived from previous online activity, such as visited websites or apps used.

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Google dominates online search. The company also owns YouTube and Android, with the latter reportedly making up nearly 75% of the global smart phone market share. PI has written about the numerous problems that come from corporate concentration and the use of data by monopolistic companies, and

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Facebook has been in the news over the past few years for failing to protect users’ data (here are some examples). Facebook can be an important tool in facilitating democracy and provides the potential to spread messages and ideas around the globe. For these reasons, it’s not possible for some

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It’s tough to minimise targeted ads on phones because ads can be delivered based on data from the device level (such as what operating system your phone is using or based on unique numbers that identify your phone), browser level (what you search for within a browser), and within the apps you use

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While Telegram says in its privacy policy that the company doesn’t “use your data for ad targeting or other commercial purposes”, the company says that “no third party bot developers are affiliated with Telegram” and that developers “should ask [users] for [their] permission before they access

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TikTok is a short-form video app (owned by ByteDance) which allows advertising and sponsored content. Two thirds of TikTok’s over 113 million users (are reportedly aged 16-24) and it was the second most downloaded app in 2019, beaten only by WhatsApp’s 849 million). Like other tech platforms

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Twitter plays an increasingly important role as a space facilitating democratic engagement, debate and dissent. However, Twitter's track record in relation to protecting people's data has in some instances fallen short of expectations. In August 2019, for example, Twitter revealed that it had shared

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Uber appears to offer few options to limit data collection and it’s unclear how the data the company has about users is shared with third parties including advertisers, although there have been numerous reports about Uber’s data sharing activities. These screenshots show a few things you can do.

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The screenshots below outline some steps you can take to minimise the data you share on WhatsApp. The company announced changes to group privacy (details here) but we are not currently (as of 14/05/19) able to see these changes (PI is UK-based).

It’s tough to minimise targeted ads on phones