Instagram ad on a phone
Justin Duino / How-To Geek

Targeted ads are everywhere. Do one simple search for computer mice and now they’re following you from Instagram to the sidebar of your favorite blog. These ads can sometimes be helpful, but not when I’ve already purchased the product.

How Do Targeted Ads Work?

Let’s talk a little bit about what targeted ads—or “personalized ads“—are and how they work. Simply put, targeted ads are ads that have been presented specifically to you because the advertiser thinks you’ll like them.

Companies track your activity across the internet and compile information to create a profile on you. The information can include race, sex, age, level of education, income level, employment, economic status, personality, attitudes, opinions, lifestyle, and other interests.

It’s a lot more cost-efficient for an advertiser to show you something you might actually click on rather than a completely random product you’ll probably ignore. Ad providers such as Google, Facebook, and Amazon use cookies to track you around the web. That’s how Instagram knows what you were looking at on Amazon.

Why You See Ads for Things You Already Bought

Hide ad choices on the web.

Putting the privacy issues aside, there’s one big problem with targeted ads. Advertisers are great at knowing which products I’m interested in, but they never know when I’ve actually purchased a product.

This happens all the time. I’ll be looking for new shoes for a couple of days on Amazon and Zappos. The ads for shoes I’ve looked at follow me around the internet. Eventually, I finally buy a pair of shoes, but the ads don’t stop—even ads for the exact pair of shoes I purchased.

This is the glaring weak spot of targeted ads. It’s somewhat useful to see ads for shoes when I’m in the market for a new pair, but it’s not helpful when my search is over. In fact, it’s pretty annoying. Why is an ad for a pair of Nikes I already own interrupting my Instagram Stories!?

There needs to be some sort of “Already Purchased” button on ads. On websites, you can usually click an “X” icon to stop seeing an ad, but there’s never an opt-out for a specific product. Plus, ads in apps on your phone are usually harder to dismiss.

How to Opt Out of Targeted Ads

Instagram hide ad choices.

So what can you do about these annoying ads? Sadly, there really isn’t a direct way to tell advertisers you’ve already purchased something. Instagram allows you choose “I already bought an item in this ad” when hiding an ad, but it’s rare to see that across the web.

Your best bet is to opt out of targeted ads altogether. There are a number of different ways to do this, depending on how aggressive you want to be. You can go with the blanket approach with a tool called WebChoices and opt out of targeted ads from a bunch of companies at once.

To be more specific, you can opt out from individual advertisers. Amazon and Google—two of the biggest ad providers—allow you to turn off targeted ads from them. Instead, you’ll just get generic ads that aren’t tailored to you.

I’m not necessarily anti-targeted ads. There have been times where I’ve found genuinely useful products from ads. However, there’s not a lot of nuances in targeted ads, and that’s what we really need. Just please stop showing me shoes.

Profile Photo for Joe Fedewa Joe Fedewa
Joe Fedewa is a Staff Writer at How-To Geek. He has been covering consumer technology for over a decade and previously worked as Managing Editor at XDA-Developers. Joe loves all things technology and is also an avid DIYer at heart. He has written thousands of articles, hundreds of tutorials, and dozens of reviews.
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