Personalised ads — they aren’t just on your screens anymore. For the past few years, advertisers have been experimenting with ways to apply all that data they have about you to billboards and other IRL advertisements. Think about how creepy it is when Facebook knows too much about you.
Now imagine how it would feel if a giant flat-screen at the mall showed you that same information in giant text that other people probably aren’t looking at, but definitely could read if it caught their eye.
Makes you want to get back in bed and hide under the covers, doesn’t it?
In the real world, targeted ads combine basic physical information about you in the moment—your height, what you’re wearing, the look on your face — with a larger wealth of personal data broadcast through your phone. Both iOS and Android phones, as it turns out, have a Mobile Advertising ID, which compiles all of the ad-related data on your phone for distribution.
(Think of it as a universal “cookie” web tracker, but for everything web-related you do on your phone).
In fact, ad companies have already used these IDs to turn web-tracking into real-life tracking. According to a report on Medium, this involves using cameras and ID numbers to see whether or not people who view an ad for a nearby store actually go there and, potentially, see whether that led to a sale.
No matter what phone you have, there is something you can do to minimise how much data goes out into the world and onto IRL ads through your Mobile Advertising ID. Both iOS and Android allow you to opt out of sending your ID to third parties, and both give you the ability to reset your ID number. For reasons I’ll explain at the end of this piece, I suggest you do both.
Thinking you’d rather minimise how much data broadcasts everywhere you go? Don’t worry. We’ll also walk through the reset process.
On iOS, MacOS and Apple TV
On iOS devices, opting out of sharing your ad data is a two-step process. For part one, you actually have to opt in to “limiting ad tracking”, rather than opting out of having your data tracked. (A clever language trick to make Apple seem like the good guy).
In the settings app on your phone, go to “Privacy”, then “Advertising”, and toggle on “Limit Ad Tracking.” According to Apple Support, you can also reset your advertising ID by switching Limit ad tracking on and then turning it back off.
For part two, which is a little trickier to find, you need to turn off sharing location data for advertising. As with step one, go to the System Preferences app and click “Privacy.” From there, select “location services”, then “system services”, and finally set “location-based Apple ads” to the off position. Obviously, if you have all location-based services turned off, you’re already set, but this is a good compromise, as well.
If you want to be extra thorough, you should also limit ad tracking on your other Apple devices. Your advertising ID is linked to your Apple ID, so it also connects to other Apple devices, including Mac laptops and desktops, and Apple TV. While you may not be pinging any billboards with your iMac, it’s never a bad idea to close off a path that leads advertisers to your data.
Luckily, the process is similar on those devices: On MacOS, open the System Preferences app and go to the privacy menu. From there, scroll down and click on “advertising” and check the box marked “Limit Ad Tracking”. On Apple TV, open the settings app and select “general”, then “privacy”. In the privacy menu, turn on “Limit Ad Tracking”.
Go into the Google Settings app and click “Ads”. Check the box at the top of the menu marked “Opt Out of Interest-Based Ads”, which serves as a “do not track” request for your mobile ID. It also turns off personalised ads in Google apps on your phone. You can also reset your mobile advertising ID from the “Ads” menu by pressing, you guessed it, “Reset Advertising ID”.
Regardless of what devices you use, I recommend you turn off ad tracking, then reset your ID to get the most out of these features. As Medium points out, Google’s language around the “opt out of interest-based ads” feature leaves room for the possibility that companies can still request your ID even if you check the box.
Apple specifies that it deletes your ID number when you limit tracking and sends out a non-unique ID if someone requests it, which is definitely better, but considering that your Apple ID is spread out across many devices, probably wisest to err on the side of caution and reset your ID once you’ve switched the setting on with any and all of your devices.