Black mirror: Targeted ads across devices/users - how to make it stop?
January 3, 2017 8:58 PM   Subscribe

My girlfriend is getting ads targeted at me on Facebook when browsing on her iPad - when I've been searching on my iPad. How can I make this stop?

I am using a hand-me-down old iPad (previously Girlfriend's). Girlfriend is using a new iPad Air 2. When Girlfriend gave me her old iPad, I made sure to reset it back to factory settings.

After I recently searched for gym bags on old iPad, Girlfriend sitting next to me showed me on her new iPad that she was now receiving targeted ads for gym bags on Facebook.

Other information that may be pertinent: I haven't had a Facebook account for more than a year, I don't have the Facebook app installed on any devices and I don't think that I go to the Facebook website more than once in a very blue moon (and my account was deleted/disabled). Old iPad is setup under my Apple ID/iTunes/whatever. I know less than enough to be dangerous.

Any ideas on how this is possible across users/devices and how to make it stop before something black mirror-ish happens?
posted by fieldtrip to Computers & Internet (17 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
So this is going to sound moderately crazy but is it possible it is listening to you? Just yesterday I started getting targeted ads for spirographs an hour after I found a toy set in my brother's house and was playing around with it... It was beyond creepy. I haven't thought about them in years, let alone used a phone/iPad/computer to research it.

Technology definitely exists to listen in.
posted by KMoney at 9:10 PM on January 3, 2017 [2 favorites]

Are you both connected to the same wifi?
posted by Blue Jello Elf at 9:18 PM on January 3, 2017

Facebook has a profile for your GF based on her activity on her iPad, and a shadow profile for the web browser on your iPad (based on you visiting sites with the FB "like this" widget on them). They want to associate the shadow profile with an existing account, since that lets them add additional targeting &c info to that account.

What's most likely is that they've decided that your shadow profile is actually your GF, based on the connections usually coming from the same IP addresses, or visiting similar links ("hey check out this link I just sent you!").

Not having an active Facebook account of your own is probably helping them make this decision. If they saw multiple FB accounts connecting from your home then they'd have to decide *which* of those to associate a shadow profile with, but if there's enough similarity in the web browsing activity they see, and no other candidate accounts to associate it with, the decision is much easier to make (though incorrect).

Personally I think this is much more likely than Facebook developing and running the risk of deploying a tool that bypasses Apple's access control on the microphone in order to listen in to what you say.
posted by russm at 9:32 PM on January 3, 2017 [11 favorites]

The general concept is "retargeting," which is when you view a product on Amazon and you start getting Amazon ads for that thing everywhere, but you appear to be receiving the "benefits" of Household IP Targeting, which does not use cookies, tracking pixels, or anything else device-specific and serves the ad to anybody behind your IP address who accesses a site using the offending ad network. The only way to stop it is to use an ad blocker or by blackholing the ad network's IP address(es), which is kind of the same thing.
posted by rhizome at 9:32 PM on January 3, 2017 [8 favorites]

I'm guessing that it's either network based (which you could only really fix with a VPN) or location based. I've noticed that I get ads for stuff like blood pressure medications and stuff like that if I'm around my doctor's office. It's possible that they're picking up your searches and then advertising to a specific geo to get it on all of your devices. In that case you might want to turn off location services on one of the iPads and see what happens.
posted by montag2k at 9:35 PM on January 3, 2017 [1 favorite]

This is probably household IP targeting as rhizome mentioned. They are kind of still working out the kinks: Dynamic Ad Targeting Becomes Grinch That Stole Christmas.
posted by mephisjo at 9:38 PM on January 3, 2017 [5 favorites]

Response by poster: Yes, same wifi network. So, an adblocker won't help - will something else help? Recommendations? Is this the new normal?
posted by fieldtrip at 10:22 PM on January 3, 2017

You could try to reset the advertising identifier (it might still think it's her):

Settings > Privacy > Advertising > Reset Advertising Identifier (and Limit Ad Tracking if you want).

It's probably the IP-based advertising that everybody else mentioned, but this is something that you could also try.
posted by destructive cactus at 10:27 PM on January 3, 2017

Is this the new normal?

I've been getting IP based ads when I visit friends for at least six years or so. Is there something specific you're worried about being revealed by ads?
posted by Candleman at 11:21 PM on January 3, 2017

Response by poster: Last comment lest I get accused of threadsitting. Candleman: not really concerned about anything specific being revealed. Some thoughts though, I'd like to start planning our next vacation and I like to keep that somewhat undercover until I can determine what is possible and fits in the budget.
posted by fieldtrip at 11:48 PM on January 3, 2017

Response by poster: Absolute last detail that might be very helpful: in the past nine years that we have been together, neither of us have noticed this happening across devices/users whilst using the same wifi (all kinds of different devices, different locations sharing the same wifi). That is why I was wondering if something has changed.
posted by fieldtrip at 12:20 AM on January 4, 2017

An adblocker on your iPad might help, as long as it also blocks all FB tracking widgets - Facebook only knows what websites you're visiting because the sites have the "like this on Facebook!" widget on them, and when you load that it lets FB know that someone in your house is viewing that page. Blocking all social media widgets will reduce (I was going to say "remove", but I expect they have other tools as well) their ability to know what you do in your browser.
posted by russm at 2:20 AM on January 4, 2017

Some thoughts though, I'd like to start planning our next vacation and I like to keep that somewhat undercover until I can determine what is possible and fits in the budget.

It might be best to do that browsing at work or a coffee shop and in incognito mode then.

That is why I was wondering if something has changed.

My housemate has mentioned noticing some more ads that are obviously targeting me leaking into his browsing experience (completely separate devices, I have no Facebook whatsoever) recently, so there might be something increasing it.

If you're curious, here's examples of companies that attempt to map IP addresses to specific locations and then do targeted advertising based on that.
posted by Candleman at 6:21 AM on January 4, 2017

same wifi network. So, an adblocker won't help

You can block ads at the DNS level.
posted by Obscure Reference at 6:39 AM on January 4, 2017

Make sure that your iPad is removed from your Girlfriend's lists of "Recognized Devices," and "Where You're Logged In" on Facebook (on the Web that's under: Settings -- Security).

Regardless of the factory reset, your iPad's browser might be advertising a hardware specific serial number as you surf, and FB may still explicitly have that serial number tied to her account.
posted by sparklemotion at 9:32 AM on January 4, 2017

Is this the new normal?

This is the old normal. There isn't anything particularly nefarious happening here -- the advertising network saw you shopping and tried to show ads targeted to your IP address, which your girlfriend saw. Tracking by IP address has been a thing for as long as Internet advertising has been a thing; it's not really private information.

If this bothers you, then get an adblocker for the iPads (I like Refine) or block the ad servers on your DNS (advanced, less precise, but works for everyone on the network).

This likely has nothing to do with Facebook accounts or any sort of customer tracking -- if it did, the ad would have been more narrowly targeted and only you would have seen it.

(In other words, your girlfriend got the internet-ad equivalent of junk mail addressed "JOHN DOE OR CURRENT RESIDENT".)
posted by neckro23 at 10:09 AM on January 4, 2017 [3 favorites]

Best answer: For your secret vacation planning, use private browsing. Any retargeting that isn't just IP-based will cease to matter when you exit private browsing mode and the cookies contained therein get blown away.

As for Facebook, do what everybody else says about removing the device from her account. I don't think my wife gets retargeted ads meant for me even though we come from the same IP and I deleted my account more than a year ago. At least, she never mentions getting ads for Bellroy wallets (the primary one that retargets me wherever I go).
posted by fedward at 2:44 PM on January 4, 2017

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