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Facebook already serves "retargeted" ads. So if you visited Zappos.com and looked at a pair of black flats, you might see the same shoes pop up in a Zappos ad on Facebook. With interest-based targeting, a company selling socks might show you an ad based on your interest in shoes -- even if you did not previously visit its website.
WHAT YOU CAN'T CONTROL:
The best way to stop tracking is to stop using the Internet and move into a cave.
"Everywhere you go on the Web, with almost no exceptions, you are going to be receiving ads based on lots of data about you," says Jules Polonetsky, who advises Facebook on privacy issues as director of the Future of Privacy Forum, an industry-backed think tank in Washington.
A few Internet companies such as Twitter, Hulu and Pinterest, along with some advertising networks and analytics firms, have agreed to adhere to voluntary guidelines called "do not track." That lets people decline tracking by websites that they don't visit.
Google, Facebook and Yahoo -- among the largest hubs for online advertising -- aren't participating so far, so your preferences mean nothing there.
WHAT YOU CAN DO:
Facebook does participate in a version of "do not track" for mobile devices. To do this on iPhones and iPads with iOS 7, go to settings, then privacy, then advertising. Slide the lever next to "limit ad tracking" to the right, or green. On Android, go to Google settings (as opposed to the regular settings). Then choose ads and select "opt out of interest-based ads."
If you are a Facebook user in the U.S., you will soon be able to click on a drop-down menu on the top right corner of every ad to find out why it's being shown to you. You'll still have the option to hide the specific ad from your feed, or hide all ads from that particular advertiser. Now, you can click on "Why am I seeing this ad?" to see why the ad was targeted to you.
Reasons could be your interests, such as the Olympics or the World Cup, or an advertiser's desire to, say, reach women in your age group who live in your city. An ad offering called "lookalike audiences" lets advertisers target users with a similar profile as their existing customers. Let's say a restaurant's ideal customer base is over 35 and a fan of Mercedes-Benz. The restaurant can target this group with ads, for example. (continued...)
© 2014 Associated Press under contract with NewsEdge. All rights reserved.