Modern mobile operating systems — Apple’s iOS, Google’s Android, and Microsoft’s Windows 10 — all provide a unique advertising identifier to apps you use. Apps use this identifier to track your interests and provide personalized ads.
If you’d rather not see personalized ads in apps, all operating systems provide a way to disable — or just reset — your identifier. You’ll still see ads, they just won’t be personalized. These settings are just for apps, not websites in your browser.
What This Does (and What This Doesn’t Do)
This doesn’t disable in-app ads, or reduce the number of ads you’ll see. Instead, it disables access to a tracking feature that normally allows ad networks to track your usage across apps. This is used to build up a personalized ad profile about you and serve targeted ads.
With this feature disabled, you won’t see ads specifically targeted to you based on other apps you were using. For example, if you’re shopping for a product in App A, you won’t see ads for that type of product in App B. You will see ads for that type of product in App A, however — this just prevents cross-app ad-tracking.
iPhone & iPad
Apple introduced this option in iOS 6. Previously, ads relied on a unique device identifier to track your device — always. Now, they rely on an ad-tracking identifier you can disable or reset. This affects the in-app ads provided by Apple’s iAd network.
To change this setting, open the Settings app, select the Privacy category, and tap the Advertising option at the bottom of the screen. Activate the “Limit Ad Tracking” option to disable interest-based ads or tap “Reset Advertising Identifier” if you’d like to continue seeing interest-based ads in the future but wipe your existing profile.
You can also disable location-based ads, if you like. Open the Settings screen, select the Privacy category, and tap Location Services. Tap the “System Services” option at the bottom of the list and disable “Location-based iAds.”
There’s a setting that does the same thing on Android phones and tablets, too. It works similarly to the feature on iOS. Rather than using a unique, unchangeable identifier to identify your device, it uses an “anonymous” ID that can be reset or disabled.
This option is found in the Google Settings app Google quietly added to devices via Google Play Services back in 2013, so you should have it on your device.
Open your app drawer and launch the Google Setting app. Tap “Ads” under Services and enable the “Opt out of interest-based ads” option. You can also reset your advertising ID from here by tapping “Reset advertising ID”.
Windows 10 has a similar setting for its apps and their ads. You’ll find this particular setting in the Settings app. Open the Start menu, click Settings, and select the Privacy category. At the top of the General pane, you’ll see a “Let apps use my advertising ID for experiences across apps (turning this off will reset your ID)” option. Disable this setting to disable those personalized ads. To reset your ID, just disable the setting and reenable it.
This setting only affects those new “universal apps” you get from the Windows Store. It won’t affect any traditional Windows desktop apps that use advertising — Microsoft’s own Skype desktop program, for example. This setting should be in the same place on Windows 10 phones.
There’s no similar setting for traditional Windows desktop programs, Mac software, or Linux applications. Instead, you’ll generally get those interest-based ads from within your web browser.
Advertising networks track you in a variety of ways, including by asking your web browser to store cookies and tying your activity to an account you stay logged in with on different services.
A variety of websites and ad networks do provide some control over whether you see those interest-based ads on the web. For example, Google offers pages where you can control interest-based ads when signed into Google, and when not signed into Google. There are other opt-out tools, like the Digital Advertising Alliance Consumer Choice page and the Ad Choices page for European users. Other ad networks and services may have their own options for controlling this.
This is a scattershot approach necessitated because the “Do Not Track” option integrated into modern browsers is largely ignored. You could also just clear your cookies every time you close your web browser. You’d have to log into websites you use over and over, but no data would be built up over time — unless it’s account-based data and you always log back into the same websites.
Of course, whether personalized, interest-based ads are actually a problem is a matter of some disagreement. This does ensure you’ll see ads that are targeted to you, at least theoretically — you won’t see ads for diapers if you’re not a parent, for example. In practice, some people do find them “creepy” — whether you want to see them is up to you.