How much do targeted ads know about us?

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When you hear the phrase ‘targeted ads’ it can sound a little scary and intrusive. Why are they targeting you and how do they always seem to appeal to the things that we enjoy the most? In this article, we dig deeper to discuss how much-targeted ads know about us and reveal how they manage to collate personal information that can be used as a powerful tool for their campaigns.

What are the targeted ads?

If you’ve even been online and noticed how many ads seem to directly appeal to your interests, then you’ve been exposed to targeted ads.
A targeted ad is a promotional advert that is tailored to suit a particular audience based on their interests, location, and certain words that respond to searches made by you (known as keywords).
Even with billions of people online around the world, specially designed algorithms are able to respond to pages, sites, and other interactions you have made online. For example, if you like a post on Facebook, leave a comment or watch a video, it tells their system you are interested in a particular topic and it will try to show similar content that will capture your attention, including adverts.
Businesses who are paying to show the advert on the site are also able to do the same, choosing specific keywords and other determining categories to find the audience they want to sell to. If you fall into the set parameters set up as part of their campaign it is likely you will see their ad at some point.

Why do companies use targeted ads?

The intention of most targeted ads is to sell something to you, whether it’s a product or service, or to convince you to visit a website that depends heavily on click-through rates. But why use targeted ads when there is already any number of ways companies can market their products and services?
The online space is a fierce and competitive place to win new customers, which means it is more important than ever for brands to find a way to tailor the features and benefits of their goods and services to your lifestyle.
Targeted ads allow them to do that on a mass scale and often on a relatively small budget, as long as the campaign is optimized correctly, with most companies enjoying a certain level of success. Social media makes it quick and easy to advertise and by narrowing down who sees their adverts the return on investment can be substantial.
It can be anything from advertising a new perfume or the latest mobile phone deal to asking you to subscribe to a newspaper or offering a tutorial on how to appeal a parking ticket – the breadth and range of adverts are unlimited, with businesses from every sector using targeted ads as a highly effective marketing tool.

How much do targeted ads know about us?

A good way to think about most targeted ads is to view them as nets being thrown out by brands looking to capture their ideal audience. Before you arrive on a site featuring these types of ads their knowledge of you is virtually non-existent.
As we mentioned above, it is only because of your interactions online that they – and the site hosting the advert – learn more about you. Using Facebook’s profile data collection as an example, here are some of the core categories used by the site and advertisers.


This includes things such as your education level, where you live, financial income and status, preferred language, and general lifestyle. It can be drilled down into even more detail. For example, if the aim is to engage parents, they will likely want to find out what type of parent you are to narrow things down even further.


As long as the audience is large enough the paying advertiser should be able to identify almost any specific type of interest that matches the goals of their campaign. This will be able to identify any apps being used that share data with Facebook, pages liked and commented on, and posts shared on timelines. The list of targeted interests includes things like ‘Food and Drink’ ‘Entertainment’ ‘Technology’ and so on – each with their own subcategories attached to ensure even more relevancy.


This is all about your intent or behaviour and the way in which you use your device, along with many other variants. Much of this information is taken from data collection companies that share with Facebook. This will reveal insights about driving habits, what type of vehicle you own, the browsers and gaming consoles you use, where you shop, and what you tend to purchase, while also wanting to know if you’re a homeowner or renter and if you’re likely to move soon.

This list is far from exhaustive, but it gives you an indication of how much information may be used to target ads to entice an interaction.

What other methods do advertisers use?

While Facebook data is based on your profile, there are a number of other ways companies can collect personal information for use in advertising campaigns.

Clickstream analysis

Clickstream data is a record of the websites you have visited. This is done using cookies, a small text file sent to your device by the website to track your movements while on their site. The main site domain sends first-party cookies, while third-party cookies are delivered by external domains linked to images or ads on the page. Third-party cookies are an invaluable tool for marketing companies that can then use your data to create targeted ads.

Purchase information

Cookies once again come into play here. When you buy something online some businesses will store the cookie and use it to suggest other items that may be of interest. Ecommerce companies rely on cookies or user registration information to personalize your shopping experience – whether you are just browsing or actually buying the item.

Search data

Search engines are by far the primary tool used by people to find what they want on the internet. So it comes as no surprise that Google’s main source of revenue is via online advertising. Search terms and online habits are tracked and analyzed to position targeted advertising alongside standard results. Companies can also use the likes of AdWords to bid on certain keywords to achieve higher rankings on the page.


Again, “targeted ads” is a seemingly scary term. Platforms gather both different types and different amounts of data. It’s always a good idea to read through a website or app’s privacy policy to find out what kind of data the platform will be collecting from you. If you’d like to tell a company to delete your information, you can do so through the Rightly platform for free.

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