targeted ads

Decoding targeted ads: How do they work and why are they bad for you?

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PUREVPNDecoding targeted ads: How do they work and why are they bad for you?

In the not-so-distant past, advertising was a bit like a shot in the dark. Marketers would cast their nets wide, hoping to catch the attention of potential customers. However, the rise of digital technology gave way to the game-changing trend of targeted ads. This new marketing strategy allowed advertisers to customize their messages to individual preferences, ensuring their product was virtually everywhere you looked. 

Today, social media platforms, search engines, and even your favorite shopping sites all employ sophisticated algorithms to understand your interests. It’s not just about selling products – it’s about creating an experience that feels almost tailor-made. With the sheer volume of data available, targeted advertising has become the norm, revolutionizing the way brands connect with their audiences. 

What is targeted advertising?

Have you ever noticed how the ads on your social media newsfeeds seem to know exactly what you’re looking for? 

For instance, if you’ve been eyeing a new pair of running shoes on an e-commerce site, there’s a good chance you’ll soon find them all over your screen. Similarly, if you’re planning a family vacation and have been scouring the web for kid-friendly activities, your timeline will soon be filled with targeted ads for family resorts and amusement parks.

That’s targeted advertising in action. Also known as personalized advertising, it’s a way for brands to aim their ads at specific groups of people based on what websites they visit, what they search for, and even their age and location. It’s like having a personal shopper who knows your preferences and shows you items you’re likely to be interested in.

Interestingly, this marketing strategy can be very effective. According to the latest statistics, targeted ads have the potential to increase click-through rates by a whopping 670%. Moreover, nearly 80% of users prefer personalized advertisements instead of regular ones. 

Types of targeted advertising

Here are the most common types of targeted advertising:

Behavioral targeting

This one’s all about observing your online behavior. It looks at your digital lifestyle and keeps track of the sites you visit and the links you click on. So, if you’ve been hunting down healthy recipes or checking out yoga tutorials, don’t be surprised if you start seeing ads for organic groceries and yoga mats.

Demographic targeting

This is the advertising world’s version of a matchmaking service. Advertisers use information like your age, gender, location, and sometimes even your income level to match you with ads that are more likely to pique your interest. For example, working parents might get hit with ads for parenting hacks, home organization tips, and maybe even that new coffee maker they’ve been eyeing.

Contextual targeting

This type of targeting takes a look at the content you’re currently engrossed in. Let’s say you’re reading an article about home gardening – and suddenly, you’ll start seeing ads for organic seeds, gardening tools, and maybe even a compost bin.


Have you ever browsed an online store, left without buying anything, and then had those very products follow you around the internet? That’s called retargeting. It’s like the store saying, “Hey, don’t forget about that bag you liked!”


This one’s all about location. Advertisers use your location data to show ads that are relevant to where you live or work. For instance, if you’re in New York, you might see ads for Broadway shows or local eateries.

Email targeting

Ever noticed how the ads in your inbox seem to be eerily tailored to your interests? That’s email targeting at work. Advertisers use information from your emails to show you targeted ads that align with your conversations.

Read more: How to stop pop-up ads?

How does targeted advertising work?

Wondering how targeted advertisements always seem to know what you want? Well, here’s how advertisers collect information about your digital lifestyle: 

Step 1: Collecting your data 

When you visit a site, it plants a tiny piece of code, called a cookie, in your browser. These are like little spies that websites use to keep track of what you do online. As you move around the web, these cookies gather data on your preferences, interests, and habits. So, if you’re into cooking, for example, they might pick up on that.

Step 2: Building a profile

Advertisers take all this data and put together a profile that’s all about you. It’s like your digital alter ego, with a list of your likes, dislikes, and preferences. They know you’re all about streaming content, selling on eBay, and maybe some yoga on the side.

Step 3: Data sharing

When you land on a website that serves ads, there’s a lightning-fast auction that takes place. Advertisers bid to show you their ad based on what they know about you. It’s like a race, and the highest bidder wins the chance to show you their product.

Step 4: The ads go live 

That’s when you see it – that ad for a new yoga mat or an offer for a family-friendly resort. It’s not magic, it’s just the result of data crunching and a quick digital bidding war.

Step 5: Fine-tuning the formula

Over time, this whole process gets smarter. The more data that’s collected, the better the advertisers become at predicting what might catch your eye. 

What are the downsides of targeted ads?

While targeted advertisements can sometimes offer useful suggestions, they can also be invasive and encroach upon our privacy.

Here are some concerns associated with targeted advertising:

Invasion of privacy: Targeted advertising relies on tracking your online behavior. It’s like having a constant digital shadow, which compromises your online privacy. 

Data security risks: When your information is stored in multiple databases for targeting advertising, it increases the chances of it falling into the wrong hands, leading to potential digital security breaches.

The filter bubble effect: This is like being in a digital echo chamber. Targeted ads tend to show you things that align with your existing interests and views. While it might make your online experience feel more tailored, it can also limit your exposure to different perspectives and ideas. You can read more about filter bubbles here. 

Potential for manipulation: Advertisers have a powerful tool in their hands. They can curate your online experience to a significant extent, potentially influencing your purchasing decisions, which can feel a bit like having someone pulling strings behind the scenes.

Overload of information: Sometimes, the sheer volume of targeted advertisements can be overwhelming. It’s like being bombarded with options, and it can be hard to sift through what’s genuinely useful and what’s just noise.

How to stop targeted ads?

Want to protect your online privacy and secure personal information? Here’s how to go about it:

Opt-out of ad personalization

Most online platforms give you the option to opt out of personalized ads. They may call it “Ad Choices” or “Ad Settings.” This won’t completely stop ads, but it will make them less tailored to you.

Clear your browser cookies

Regularly clearing your browser cookies can help disrupt the tracking process. It’s like giving your digital footprint a good shake. Just be aware that it might log you out of some websites, so you’ll need to re-enter your login credentials.

Use a Virtual Private Network (VPN)

A premium VPN such as PureVPN encrypts your connection and masks your IP address, making it much harder for advertisers to track you. It’s an excellent tool to keep personal information private and secure. 

Adjust your social media settings

Social media platforms often have detailed settings for ad preferences. You can review and change what information they use to show you ads. It’s worth taking a few minutes to explore these options. 

Use private browsing mode

Most browsers have a private or incognito mode. When you use it, your browsing history and cookies won’t be saved. It’s like leaving no trace behind. However, please note that just because you’re using incognito mode doesn’t mean you are completely safe from prying eyes. 

Limit sharing of personal information

Be mindful of what information you share online, especially on social media. The fewer advertisers know about you, the harder it is for them to target you.

Advantages of targeted ads 

While targeted advertising is an invasion of your online privacy and could compromise your digital security, it also has a few benefits. For starters, targeted ads show you products and services that are genuinely interesting or useful to you. Moreover, these ads create a more tailored online experience while helping you discover new products or services that you might not have come across otherwise.

Last but not least, for businesses, targeted ads can be more cost-effective and result in higher conversion rates compared to non-targeted ads. 

The bottom line 

In the world of online advertising, targeted ads can offer valuable benefits by delivering personalized content and relevant suggestions. However, it’s also crucial to strike a balance between convenience and privacy. Safeguarding your personal information and digital security is just as important as enjoying a customized online experience. By employing tools like VPNs and adjusting your ad settings, you can navigate the digital landscape with confidence, ensuring that your online world remains both personalized and private. 

To learn more about targeted ads and other threats to your online privacy, stay connected to PureVPN Blog. You can also share your thoughts in the comments section below. 

Read more: How to block ads while playing games on an iPhone or an iPad

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