Companies like Instagram put you in categories based on your activity online. Maybe they can tell that you’re a music lover, a female teenager, and a resident of Minnesota. Advertisers pick from those categories when placing their ads. For example, an ad for a Shawn Mendes concert in Chicago might be sent to “teenage girls from the Midwest who like pop music.”
Advertisers love being able to target the people who are most likely to buy their stuff. Google and Facebook love it too because they are now two of the largest companies in the world—thanks to selling ads.
But what about you? Do you love targeted ads, or are you worried about your privacy? Most internet companies say there’s no need to worry. The information they share with advertisers is only connected to a number called an IP address, which every computer, phone, and tablet has. Your name is not included in the information they share. Advertisers use the IP addresses to send ads directly to your device, but you remain anonymous.
Still, the information can get very personal—and creepy. In 2017, Facebook said it could determine when young users were feeling “stressed” or “worthless.” They claimed the data wasn’t mined for ads, but there’s nothing to prevent that from happening in the future.