How Does Instagram Know What I Google?
How Does Instagram Know What I Google?
If you’ve seen The Social Dilemma on Netflix, then you probably have a pretty good understanding of how social media platforms track your online activity, habits, and likes to build a digital data profile that they can use for advertisement or sell to large data brokers.
It wasn’t always like this… but the past 10 years have seen lots of advancements in internet protocol, especially in the realm of advertisement. While social media platforms are free-to-use, they come at the cost of your personal data. Always remember, that nothing in life is truly free.
If you have an Instagram account, then you’ve no doubt experienced the strange feeling that Instagram is spying on you. Perhaps, you were Googling a certain product, brand, or service, and the next thing you know, you’re being shown Instagram ads for the same thing. Weird, right?
Chances are, if you’re reading this post, then you’ve been asking yourself, “How does Instagram know what I Google?”
To consumers, it may seem like an invasion of privacy; to advertisers, it’s a dream come true…
In today’s post, we’re going to explain how Instagram knows what you’re Googling and what you’re interested in. Then, we’ll show you how to get a leg up and prevent Instagram (and other social media platforms) from tracking your online activity! We’ll also explain whether or not a VPN service can prevent sites and apps from tracking your online activities.
Understanding Ad Re-Targeting
So, before we get into the technical details, it’s important to understand the concept of ad re-targeting. So, for the purpose of this example, start by putting yourself in the shoes of somebody who owns an online store…
As most online retailers know, only around 2% of all Googled queries directly result in a sale. Let’s just say that you own an online store that sells fishing gear. This means that only 2% of people who search for something related to fishing will purchase fishing gear online, and every other online store selling fishing gear has to fight to get the attention of that 2%.
Now, let’s say that a potential customer visited your online store and was looking at some gear. Maybe they even added a few things to the shopping cart! Then, something happens on their end (they forget, talk to their spouse, etc.) and they end up leaving the site. You probably think that you’ve lost the customer for good, right?
… Well, not necessarily.
What if you had a way to specifically target that person and “remind them” about their unfinished business with you? Imagine how much more conversions you could make! This is how the concept of ad re-targeting emerged.
How Does Instagram Know What I Google?
The way Instagram “knows” what you Google all has to do with ad re-targeting and cookies. As you browse through the internet, small pieces of data are stored on your device and your browser. Social media platforms (like Instagram, for instance) can then access this data and use it to display customized content and advertisements to you.
Each Instagram user has an algorithm that’s specifically designed to show them content that they like (or that’s relevant to their online activity). This, in turn, keeps users engaged on the platform for longer. If you’ve ever liked a cute puppy video and been displayed 10 more puppy videos right after, this is your algorithm working hard to show you more of the content that it thinks you like.
The same thing applies to your online internet activity, including the things you Google and what websites you visit. For example, if you’re online looking at Ford Mustangs, then Instagram will show you ads from local car dealerships that sell Mustangs. The same goes for just about any product or service you could imagine.
How Cookies Work
Above, we explained that every time you visit a website, it stores small pieces of data on your browser and/or device. This data is referred to as a “cookie,” or more specifically an HTTPS Cookie.
Originally cookies weren’t created for the purpose of advertisement. The main goal of a cookie is to store a small piece of data on your browser that allows the site to load faster the next time you visit. Cookies can also save certain data that you enter into sites, such as your username or the items that you left in your online shopping cart.
Basically, cookies enhance the user experience by making it easier for visitors to come back to the same website. In the early days of the internet, before high-speed internet and 5G speeds were a thing, this was very important.
Today, cookies are used for more than just enhancing the user experience; they’re shared with other websites and platforms to be used for advertising purposes. So, whenever you open the Instagram app on your phone, your personal algorithm sees the cookies on your device and uses this information to update the type of content and ads it displays to you.
So, what do they get out of it?
Well, the more personalized content you’re shown, the more time you’ll probably spend on the app. The more time you spend on the app, the more that the platform can charge companies and advertisers to advertise on their platform.
You see? At the end of the day, it all comes down to money…
How To Delete Cookies From Your Browser
Let’s just say that you’re tired of Instagram (or Facebook, Twitter, etc.) showing you personalized ads. Perhaps they’re wrong or outdated or just plain annoying. Lucky for you, there’s a simple and easy way to end it by deleting cookies from your browser.
All you need to do is access your browser’s privacy settings, and choose to delete all cookies. While you’re at it, you may as well be thorough and delete your memory cache and browser history too. Here’s how it should look on the Chrome browser:
How To Prevent Cookies From Tracking You
Deleting your cookies one time will delete all of the current cookies stored on your device and will stop Instagram from showing you the same ads that you’ve already gotten tired of. However, if you want to prevent the same thing from happening again in the future, you’ll need to go a step further by permanently preventing cookies from tracking you. There are three main ways that you can accomplish this. Check it out!
1. Method 1- Use Incognito Mode: The easiest way to prevent this is to simply use your browser’s incognito mode. While you’re browsing in incognito mode, your browser won’t save your website history or store cookies on your device. This, in turn, will prevent your social media apps from reading your cookie data and using it to advertise to you.
Keep in mind that if you want to keep other parties from tracking you (i.e., your ISP, government agencies, law enforcement, hackers), then you’ll need to use a VPN service like NordVPN to encrypt your online activity.
2. Method 2- Don’t Accept Cookie Agreements: You may have already noticed, but all sites that store cookies on your browser are legally required to display a pop-up asking you whether or not you accept cookies. This will be displayed the first time that you visit a website.
3. Method 3- Use The Tor Browser: Another option you can implement is to use the Tor browser. You may have heard of the Tor browser in reference to the dark web before, as it’s the only browser that’s capable of accessing dark websites with a ‘.onion’ browser extension.
However, the Tor browser is capable of doing far more than just accessing dark websites. It’s a full-fledged web browser that’s designed to protect its users’ privacy while browsing online, even if you’re just accessing the “clearnet” (regular websites). This means that websites can’t track you or store cookies on your browser while you’re using the Tor browser.
Are Cookies A Bad Thing?
Will A VPN Prevent Cookies From Tracking Me?
This is a question that we’ve gotten from a lot of our readers over the past few months. While a VPN can prevent third parties from tracking you, a VPN alone won’t prevent websites from storing cookies on your device.
That being said, your VPN may affect the accuracy of your cookies. For example, if you’re in the US and you’re connected to a French-based VPN server then the sites you visit will store French cookies on your browser. This could result in social media platforms showing you French advertisements instead of English advertisements.
If you want to prevent cookies from tracking you, you’ll still need to use a browser’s incognito mode or permanently disable cookies within your browser.
What Type of Tracking Do VPNs Prevent?
VPNs aren’t designed to prevent websites from tracking you. Instead, they’re designed to prevent third parties from snooping in on you. These third parties could be law enforcement, government agencies, hackers, scammers, and other snoopers. As long as you’re connected to a VPN, nobody else will be able to see the sites you visit or whatever else you’re doing online.
However, the cookies stored on your browser could be a giveaway if the wrong party gets access to your browser. This is why it’s a good idea to use incognito mode along with your VPN to ensure complete anonymity. If you’re new to VPNs and unsure of which one’s best for you, check out our list of VPNs that offer free trial periods here!
Well, that concludes this post! We hope that you found this piece useful and learned something new today. For the most part, cookies are a good thing and make your experience online more seamless and relevant. However, if you want to prevent Instagram and your other social media platforms from knowing what you Google, then blocking cookies is the best way to go about it.
Until next time, stay safe, secure, and anonymous!