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Defense Against the Dark Arts: How to Protect Yourself From Online Advertising

It's no secret that advertising and marketing is a multi-billion dollar industry, so it should come as no surprise that they spend billions of dollars a year to get you to buy their products.

What is surprising though is how they get you to buy their products. This itself is a billion dollar industry too. Marketing firms know exactly what color and shape a pill must be in order to appeal to the people who it is designed for. If I said Viagra I bet an image comes to mind ( the pill I mean!!) how about if I said Tylenol or Nyquil Daytime?

Marketing firms and even behaviorists conduct human experiments all the time! For example they conducted an experiment in liquor stores; they concluded that if French music is played to people in the wine section, people buy more French wine. If German music is played in the beer section people tended to buy German beer over other beers. I can go on all day about experiments like this. I won't, the point is....I could.

We as a population are already desensitized to advertising and it is getting worse. Back in the day of radio you maybe got 1 or 2 commercials in a 30 minute period. Now you are lucky to watch a 10 minute YouTube video without at least 2 - 3 ads! How many commercials do you think they squeeze into a 30 minute TV show in 2019? There is no definitive answer but you are looking at about 14 minutes of commercials and about 46 minutes of showtime with commercials starting and ending the show. Average commercial is anywhere between 15 seconds to a minute. Not to mention you will see more commercials in the last part of the show than the beginning. This is so you are fully engaged in the show and less likely to change the channel. Sneaky.

That's all fine for radio and TV but what about online? This is when things start to get really out of control. Think back to a time when you wanted to buy something, or you just bought something. Let's say it was a car, or a pair of popular shoes, maybe a handbag, whatever. Did you begin to start noticing how many people were wearing those same exact shoes, or driving the same exact car, holding that same handbag? That is because consciously you have been thinking about that particular purchase for awhile and your subconscious is now focused on it too. In fact, at that point you are not even consciously looking for it, it just seems to pop out at you!

Advertisers have noticed this as well. Facebook in particular which includes Instagram has their marketing broken down to be able to target very specific audiences. This means you! Want to know how specific Facebook gets? There is a category of 'people most likely to purchase something online' as well as 'people who have purchased something within the last 60 days, 30 days, 15 days, and week'.

Without getting into how Google analytics and Facebook pixel work, just know that everything you search, click on, like, comment on, every group you join, and form you fill out is stored somewhere. This creates an 'online profile' of who you are, what you like, what you are into currently, what you have purchased and how often you purchase online, etc.

There are even theories that Google and Facebook are 'listening in' to your real life conversations. There are posts and videos of people talking about very specific things like cat food around their phones, without owning a cat and then noticing cat products being advertised to them. That becomes even more concerning with devices such as Google Home and Alexia. True or not, what I do know is that if I take what is already on the top of your mind and repeatedly place it into your awareness you are more likely to buy it. It's that simple and advertisers know this too.

So how do we defend ourselves against this? The answer is you can't, at least not 100% advertising is now an annoyingly part of life in today's society. There are however a few ways to throw off the algorithms so you do not fall victim to 'targeted ads'.

Use an ad blocker

Ad blockers are software programs that can be installed on your web browser or device to block ads from appearing on websites you visit. There are many ad blockers available, both free and paid, and they can be effective at blocking unwanted ads. Just be aware that some websites may require you to disable your ad blocker in order to access their content.

Use a privacy-focused browser

Some web browsers, such as Brave and Firefox, are designed with privacy in mind and have built-in features to block tracking and ads. Switching to one of these browsers can help reduce the amount of online tracking and targeted advertising you encounter.

Opt out of targeted advertising

Many companies track your online activity in order to show you targeted ads. You can opt out of this type of advertising by visiting the Digital Advertising Alliance's (DAA) opt-out page and selecting the companies you want to opt out of tracking.

Use incognito mode

Incognito or private browsing mode is a feature available in most web browsers that allows you to surf the web without leaving a trace. When you use incognito mode, your browsing history, cookies, and search history are not saved, which can help to reduce the amount of targeted advertising you see.

Adjust your privacy settings

Most social media platforms and other websites offer privacy settings that allow you to control what information is shared and who can see it. By adjusting your privacy settings, you can limit the amount of data that is collected about you and reduce the amount of targeted advertising you see.

By taking these steps, you can better defend yourself from online advertising and take back control of your online experience. Just be aware that it is unlikely that you will be able to completely eliminate all ads from your online experience, but you can take steps to reduce their frequency and intrusiveness.

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