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This is How Facebook Learns About Your Offline Life

Almost everyone who has access to the internet, has a Facebook account. If you are a proud owner of a Facebook account, you should know the deal you’re getting. In exchange for staying connected with your loved ones, your friends and family, as well as those people from your secondary school whom you never ever talk to, Facebook collects your personal information. The things you post on your profile, the pages you like, the videos you watch and the type of online articles you like, all form a unique digital fingerprint that tells Facebook what you are all about. Subsequently, this information is used to sell ads.

Unfortunately for you, it’s not quite that simple. An investigation carried out by ProPublica revealed that Facebook isn’t just about providing a free service to get your online personal information. It actually has agreements with not one, but quite a few data brokers that continuously supply Facebook with information about how you spend your time offline. That includes information such as how much money you rake in, where your favourite restaurants are, and how many credit cards you have stashed away in your wallet.

Your digital fingerprint just got much less digital, and far more intimidating. It quite literally is building a profile of you  to sell to advertising companies, and the worst part of it all, is that it’s keeping it on the down low and not telling you about it.

We can’t deny that Zuckerberg is quite the genius. Well, I mean he’s an incredibly rich man, so he’s got to be smart. The way he has monetised Facebook, is pretty incredible. Facebook’s advertising mechanism is stellar. Besides its incredibly huge base of active users, the reason why advertisers love it is its ability to filter its users based on countless numbers of parameters. Your shared interests, age, whether you are an Apple or Android man, and even your political leanings are all for these advertising vulture’s picking.

This is what we term, microtargeting, and it’s incredibly powerful and valuable at the same time. Customers can now be targeted with greater precision. A high-income earner, an up and coming hedge fund manager that has a kid who loves football, can be targeted by Adidas to buy the Adidas Boost rather than a high school kid who just likes the page Adidas and probably has no considerable income.

Facebook classifies your online character into several “interests”. There are some really strange ones. ProPublica, in its investigation has actually built a program to help people to track how they are, well, being tracked, and it further goes on to egg people to share what they find out about how Facebook is tracking them. So the publication has since then sourced and found out over 52,000 categories of interest, including “Pretending to Text in Awkward Situations” and “Breastfeeding in Public.”

To be fair to Facebook, users can actually click on the top right corner of an ad in Facebook to see why it’s appearing in their news feed and if it’s because they’re in a data provider’s audience, Facebook tell them that and link it to the data provider’s opt-out page. Users can also alter their ad preference so that Facebook ads will no longer be a nuisance. This is not to say that Facebook ads aren’t going to appear, but they are just going to be more tailored for you, which is well, I suppose a win-win scenario?

When ProPublica did its research, at the end, it found out that the information Facebook acquired from third parties had actually a lot to do with an individual’s finances, which reveals quite a fair bit about Facebook’s motivation, which is, well, selling ads and trying to get people to buy products from its advertising partners. Now that you know how your information is traded on The Social Network, are you still willing to use it when it’s not so free anymore?

About the Autv-modahor

A Dentist-To-Be Dabbling in Tech Journalism:

Zayne is a writer who reports for VR-Zone, Stuff Singapore and The New Paper on all things tech-related. Follow this geek on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram!


Zayne Seah
A tech geek going beyond specs.

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