Facebook will let you control which ads you see

Don't care for that car ad? Soon, Facebook will explain why it's there -- and give you the power to tune out those kinds of pitches.

Lance Whitney Contributing Writer
Lance Whitney is a freelance technology writer and trainer and a former IT professional. He's written for Time, CNET, PCMag, and several other publications. He's the author of two tech books--one on Windows and another on LinkedIn.
Lance Whitney
3 min read


Facebook users who don't understand why they're seeing a certain ad on the site may soon be able to solve the mystery.

Starting in the US, the popular social network will unveil a new ad preferences feature that can shed more light on the ads you see, the company said on Thursday. Specifically, you'll be able to click on a link next to an ad called "Why am I seeing this?" In response, Facebook will clue you in on why it chose to show you that specific ad.

If you then decide you don't want to see that particular type of ad in the future, you can tell Facebook to stop showing it via your ad preferences. For example, you may keep seeing ads about cars because that topic is listed as one of your ad interests. But if you're not in the market for a new car, you can simply remove that topic as one of your interests.

Like many websites, Facebook has to walk a fine line between earning money from advertisements and trying not to tick off its users with annoying and unwanted ads. With almost 1.3 billion monthly active users, Facebook makes most of its money off advertising. In the first quarter of this year, for example, it made $2.5 billion in revenue, $2.27 billion of which was from ads.

Targeted ads are one way of attempting to make sure the ads you see are relevant to your interests. And though the burden is on you to take action if you keep seeing an unwanted ad, at least Facebook realizes it has to leave the ultimate choice of what ads you see in your hands.

The move comes as the Federal Trade Commission and the White House have looked for ways to better prevent the collection and sharing of consumer data, which have included the call for giving people more tools to control what what kind of digital data gets shared, according to the New York Times. The Times also reported that the FTC was briefed about Facebook's intentions.

The new ad controls and preferences will roll out in the US over the next few weeks, according to Facebook. A global launch is in the works for the coming months.

That's the good news. The not-so-good news, at least to privacy advocates? Facebook is expanding the sources it uses to determine what ads to serve you.

Currently, the company sends you ads based on your Facebook activities, such as the Pages you like. It also takes into account certain personal details, such as your age, gender, and location. But soon Facebook will also tap into the websites and apps you use in order to decide which ads should target you.

As Facebook explains it:

"Let's say that you're thinking about buying a new TV, and you start researching TVs on the web and in mobile apps. We may show you ads for deals on a TV to help you get the best price or other brands to consider. And because we think you're interested in electronics, we may show you ads for other electronics in the future, like speakers or a game console to go with your new TV."

Facebook also explains that many companies already take advantage of this type of "interest-based advertising." It is true that this form of advertising is not new. Google and many other websites have long used this technique to target ads. But as with any process that involves online tracking and monitoring, "interest-based advertising" has triggered concerns from privacy groups.

On the plus side, Facebook users will be able to opt out of the advertising both through their web browser and via the controls built into iOS and Android. You can learn more about advertising on Facebook through the site's About Facebook Ads page.