Can You Control Ads On Facebook?

Category: Facebook

Facebook has long faced withering criticism for bombarding users with ads in their news feeds, groups, sidebars, and anyplace there might be as scrap of white space. The ads are supposedly targeted to one’s interests, but the volume, invasiveness, and what many believe is dirty, underhanded trickery makes the average person lose interest in all ads pretty quickly. Read on to learn what you can (and cannot) control when it comes to Facebook ads and privacy...

No, Mark, We Can’t Control What Ads We See On Facebook

Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg was grilled on Capitol Hill recently about ads and privacy issues. His response amounted to, “Hey, don’t blame us, you control what ads you see!” That’s a disingenuous answer, to say the least. There is no slider control I can switch to “show me NO ads,” and there won’t be as long as Facebook gets the vast majority of its revenues from ads.

The notion of user fees replacing ad revenues is being considered. The first problem is that it smacks of extortion. “Pay us or get smacked with ads.” Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak is cool with paying, as I noted in my article, “What Price for Privacy?” but most of us can’t afford to buy “protection” from all the online services we use that depend on ad revenue. That’s the second problem.

Instead of a simple on/off switch for ads, Facebook provides a whole subsystem of settings that let you add and subtract “interests” that are used to target ads that you see, and even lets you specify that you do not want to see any ads from specific companies. Let’s see how it works:

On Facebook, open Settings and scroll down until you can click on “Ads.” Welcome to the rabbit hole! First, you will see the list of “Your ad preferences.”

Facebook ad controls

Click on the first topic, “Your Interests.” Facebook says, “Choose an interest to preview examples of ads you might see on Facebook or remove it from your ad preferences.” Interests are the labels on tabs at the top of this page; they run right off the right-hand edge into a bottomless dropdown list. Go ahead, click on just one interest; it’s actually interesting and fun for the first half-dozen or so advertisers’ icons.

You can banish a specific advertiser by removing its icon. You can eliminate all advertisers in a specific “interest” category by deleting that interest. What a glorious feeling of control and power!

But you will soon realize the awful truth: there can never be an end to reviewing ads or removing interests. You will not find the bottom of that list of interests in one lifetime or ten thousand. As soon as you give up and go back to your usual Facebooking, more “interests” will be added to your list each time you click on something, or even look at something. And if an interest exists, there are multiple advertisers pursuing it.

Facebook tells advertisers that its carefully selected “targets” (you and me) have expressed interest in things related to the keywords that advertisers specify. The more targets Facebook can claim match those keywords, the more money Facebook makes. That is a disincentive to raising the bar for what constitutes an “interest” to a level that means anything. Doing so would mean fewer users interested in “waffle,” for instance, and fewer ad dollars from sellers of waffles, waffle irons, and waffle accessories.

What's the Definition of Interaction?

Let’s go to the next topic, “Advertisers you’ve interacted with.” Click on that one and see what Facebook says about these advertisers. In the tab of advertisers "Who have added their contact list to Facebook" you'll see: “These advertisers are running ads using a contact list they uploaded that includes your contact info. This info was collected by the advertiser, typically after you shared your email address with them or another business they've partnered with.”

Yikes! That’s just about every advertiser, marketer, list broker, and app developer on the planet, isn’t it? Apparently this means the "The Mandarins Acibadem" (a condo complex in Istanbul, Turkey) somehow got my contact info. I've never been to Istanbul, I don't speak Turkish, and I've never "interacted" with this advertiser. Likewise, I've never had any interest in, or contact with the "Nevada Conservation League," the "Chumba Casino," or the campaign to "Elect Patrick Harris for Johnston County North Carolina Commissioner."

Other tabs/categories include advertisers "Whose website or app you've used", "Whom you've visited", and "Whose ads you've clicked." They may or may not have advertisers listed in them. Do not click the "Learn more" in those spaces unless you are being paid to do so; it’s tedious and unhelpful.

Newsflash: "Your Information" is not YOUR Information

The third ad topic, “Your Information,” is pretty simple. You can toggle on or off whether Facebook can target ads at you based upon your relationship status, education, employer, or job title. But the last line, in fine grey print, complicates things again:

“These settings only affect how we determine whether to show certain ads to you. They don't change which information is visible on your profile or who can see it. We may still add you to categories related to these fields (see Your categories above).”

“Your categories above” is right under the topic title “Your Information,” in case you wondered too. Clicking on “your categories” reveals a list of personal factoids that Facebook has collected "to help advertisers reach people (you) who are most likely to be interested in their products, services, and causes." I'm not sure how it helps Facebook to know that I'm "Close Friends of Men with a Birthday in 7-30 days" or that I'm a "Close friends of expats".

That’s enough gory details to give you a sense of how deep and treacherous this swamp of “ad controls” is. I will just list the other topics and comment briefly on them.

“Ad settings” -- I disallowed use of all three categories of data under this topic. I am especially offended by Facebook’s use of data about my activities while I am not on Facebook or any of its properties. Yes, this means that as long as you're logged into Facebook, they are collecting information about your activities elsewhere online. And sure, you can disallow "Ads based on data from partners" but that doesn't mean that Facebook will delete any of that data. You'll still see the same number of ads, but they'll be based on things you do on Facebook, rather than outside of Facebook.

“Hide ad topics” -- Apparently, Facebook thinks I could only want to hide ads about alcohol, parenting, and/or pets.

“How Facebook ads work” is a gorgeous slide show, obviously the topic upon which the staff lavished the most love and effort. Its purpose is to tell Facebook’s side of the ad story, not to reveal the subtle ways in which Facebook influences the way we think and behave, or our beliefs about reality.

"All Your Data Are Belong to Us"

In conclusion, “You own your data and have control of it” is a big, fat lie. It is impossible for any mere mortal to know all that Facebook knows about him, let alone keep track of constant additions to his or her dossier, and continually allow or disallow use of any or all of it.

Facebook is a runaway train. It needs to be stopped, and it's clear that no amount of "self policing" of their platform will have any effect. Legislation is the only option at this point. I encourage you to contact your congresscritters and urge them to take action on this matter.

Your thoughts on this topic are welcome. Post your comment or question below...

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Most recent comments on "Can You Control Ads On Facebook?"

(See all 27 comments for this article.)

Posted by:

Bob K
07 May 2018

Early on I found that FB and their privacy setting were in a never-ending state of change. Every time I tried to make something private, somehow they would manage to change things so it no longer was private.

I set up a second account, with completely phony information, and screwed the privacy settings up full tilt. Somehow all it's information started showing in Google searches -- IIRC in

That fake account I have tried to delete (near impossible) and my other account I have "deactivated". I am using TOR more and more.

Posted by:

07 May 2018

Bob: How about all the ads that appear in your news letters. Have you screened them? Some of them are advertising products that my wife had done business with, but not all. I am particularly giving reference to various anti virus programs that may be bogus.

Posted by:

07 May 2018

It's very easy to control ads on Facebook. Just don't use the blame thing!!

Posted by:

07 May 2018

Great, great article, Bob.
One thing though;
Patrick Harris is running for Johnson County (NC) Commissioner...not Johnston County.

Just joking. :)

Posted by:

Mike (UK)
07 May 2018

Like one of the other contributors above, I am also concerned about the ads appearing on your newsletter Bob. For example this one for Bitcoin Loophole, which I am pretty sure is a scam and would not be given the light of day on UK Dragon's Den TV show, as they claim on this site.

Posted by:

John O
07 May 2018

Right on Wayne dump it. What a waste of time and effort.

Posted by:

07 May 2018

offering free microscopes. IMHO, Facebook is but a tree, in the forest created by Google. Circus tent in Capitol Hill, attended by Zuckerguy recently, was just a sideshow and those caretakers [i.e., co-conspirators] have already returned back to their regularly scheduled programming.
The vain attempt by the EU elites under the guise of GDPR does not even scratch the surface. What this country really needs is a proper "DIGITAL BILL of RIGHTs" that is 20+ years overdue. Yet, I am neither disillusional or going to pretend that it is still 1791 and vested interests are too many to make such a thing realizable in the 21 Century!

[i]Mr. Rankin, would you please stop asking for "Your thoughts on this topic are welcome. Post your comment..."?[/i]

Posted by:

07 May 2018

Maybe Facebook should offer free glasses for the myopics in our lot! But then, Google has to do one better and start offering free microscopes...

Posted by:

Phil Reed
07 May 2018

Well, I'll say this again.

Get rid of all ads, targeted or not, by using a great software app called "Social Fixer."

And for those with their head in the sand about FB, I just wish it were there when I served in the Army in West Germany during the 80s & 90s.

One of the things that I love about it is seeing pics that are posted of my 8 grand-nieces and -nephews now, whereas I could have seen pics of my nieces and nephews back then. So it does serve a purpose. You just have to find it.

And Bob, I hope you post this one for you didn't when I submitted one comment years ago about Adblock and Adblock Plus to kill unwanted ads in Chrome and other browsers.

And in agreement, nothing worse than those pop-up ads that destroy your reading and thoughts!

The industry has done this to themselves and the people are fighting back.

Posted by:

Granville Alley
07 May 2018


This is a general comment but I am finding your website harder and harder to justify opening because of the number of video ads with auto-load, auto-start and just the number of graphical ads that utilize system resources at outrageous levels. I am now regularly warned by Safari when visiting your site that "This Website is Utilizing Substantial Amounts of Memory and Other Resources".

I appreciate that you offer your content for "free" but if you load up so many ads on your page that your readers have to close the browser window this defeats the purpose for your advertisers and will ultimately cost you readers as well. I have long appreciated you and your content but you have passed the threshold of acceptable pain.

Posted by:

07 May 2018

a did always say they did with FACEBOOK created a monster no adds should be allowed should only be a personal website more control should be in place for our privacy but so many stupid live only on FACEBOOK very very sad.

Posted by:

08 May 2018

Actually, I use AdBlock Pro with Facebook and I don't get any ads.

Posted by:

08 May 2018

I use AdBlock Plus and I seldom see ads anywhere. Web pages load up almost instantly as well. I could also care less what kind of info that they gather to throw ads my way as I don't see them anyway. It's as if they are flogging a dead horse. lol

Posted by:

Sarah L
08 May 2018

The ads are one problem, the data accumulated about a user of fb is another and really creepy. I will now use fb and then close it, assuming it cannot track me if their software is not open. Is that a correct notion? I will save this article to guide me through fb settings. I like being anonymous much of the time. Definitely creepy, this runaway train.

Posted by:

08 May 2018

I closed FB account about 5 yrs ago as it was just a time sink. I wonder what a Pi-Hole DNS would do for people who use it.

Posted by:

Nick Percival
08 May 2018

As someone said, if you're not paying, you're the product! The users are not the customer here; the advertisers are. Seriously, does anyone expect Facebook to provide their platform for nothing? Seeing the adverts is the price you pay for using social media for free. You can just ignore them; I don't think I have ever bought anything on the basis of an online advert pushed at me like this. So you do ultimately have control!

Posted by:

Jim Young
10 May 2018

I wish I could control the ads on Ask Bob Rankin!

Posted by:

12 May 2018

I use Adblock Plus, which eliminates almost all ads everywhere, as well as Disable HTML5 Autoplay to get rid of auto playing ads almost everywhere.......I have become a master at totally ignoring all other ads that do manage to sneak through...

Posted by:

12 May 2018

I use Social Fixer on Facebook. I can block just about anything I don't want to see on my time-line and home page... ads, sponsored posts, suggested/related stuff, political etc stuff and the very annoying "trending".
There is also an app "Friendly" for mobile devices.

Posted by:

George Joubert
25 Nov 2018

Bob, It has long been a dream of mine that I could invoice those organizations who take control of my hard drive for uploads and place all sorts of unwanted data on MY PC's, laptops and smartphones. Is there not some way to charge the likes of FB, Google, and others for using up OUR disk space? If not then this is a business opportunity for one of those smart software gurus to create such a programme.

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