How Facebook “listens” to you - Campbell Squared
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How Facebook “listens” to you

Disclaimer: Facebook does not actually listen through your device but what they do may in fact be equally intrusive.

Our Social Media Consultant Josh Ogilvy looks at how Facebook’s recent revelation into what third-party app data is collected, impacts the ads Facebook serves you.

Social media has become a political hot topic in recent years. We saw the extent to which elections can be influenced through the use of highly-targeted political ads and the spread of misinformation orchestrated through bot or alias accounts. The controversy surrounding the 2016 US Election and Brexit is part of what led some social media platforms to re-examine their advertising policies when it comes to political ads in particular. New Zealand Prime Minister and Labour Party Leader Jacinda Ardern, recently announced the date of New Zealand’s General Election and just a few days prior she expressed Labour’s intent to run ethical and transparent Facebook ads.

So, how does Facebook determine what products, services and political parties might interest you? You may have heard the long-running conspiracy that Facebook and other social media platforms access your device’s microphone, while that sounds plausible, the truth is more complex and involves collecting data from thousands of sources to understand all your interests. Facebook does this through tracking software across apps and tracking cookies across a third of the top websites in the world. This is not totally unique to Facebook and Google does this to a large extent as well, the difference being that they will not show you how whereas Facebook now will through their new “Off-Facebook Activity” tracker tool.

Off-Facebook Activity is accessible through your profile under ‘Settings’ then ‘Your Facebook Information’ you can then click view on ‘Off-Facebook Activity’. On a panel on the right-hand side you are given options to view and manage your data. If you view your information you will see that Facebook collects and stores quite a bit of different information, all neatly categorised. Scroll to the bottom and you’ll see ‘Information about you’ and just below that ‘Ads and businesses’ this is where you can see how your data is used to display relevant and personalised ads, and also your ‘Off-Facebook Activity’.

Looking through the ‘Interests’ Facebook had collected about myself, I was actually quite impressed. Most of the information was largely accurate in terms of the sports, tv shows, business/influential figures, news and political interests – even right down to the type of cars I like. It is by no means entirely accurate but by having my data settings open Facebook has built a solid profile of my interests. They even know what field I work in despite no mention of my career on Facebook – this is apparently because LinkedIn shares data with Facebook. You can see who shares your data with Facebook and other advertisers under ‘Advertisers and businesses’.

When I first heard about this new ‘Off-Facebook Activity’ tool I was expecting to be quite disturbed when looking at what Facebook knows about me. But to be honest, I wasn’t at all once I saw how it was being done. I welcome this transparency – I can see it benefitting me as both a user and an advertiser. As a user I can restrict what data is collected, who advertises to me and what interests are shared. I can create a more personalised experience so that when ads do pop up, they are relevant and not just irritating. As an advertiser, if more users actually look into their information and update their preferences, it could make Facebook’s advertising even more accurate – creating a better user experience and better results for digital marketers.

I’ve already gone through and removed redundant interests or ones that I do not want targeted and I would recommend you do the same.

Update: Since adjusting my settings I’ve actually had a much better experience with ads, they tend to be more relevant and don’t irritate or disrupt me as much. There is no way to avoid ads on social media without avoiding the platforms themselves. If you plan on staying on Facebook and the ads really get to you, it may be worth changing your settings.