Facebook users have always been anxious about the effects Facebook is having on their lives, and rightfully so. As you’ll find out in the post below, Facebook’s data collection and the way they present this data to their advertising partners consists of far more than what meets the eye.
Facebook is a free service; their #1 source of income is serving targeted advertisements to their users. From a corporate perspective Facebook is, at its core, an advertising company. They make most of their income from serving advertisements to an audience targeted to specific groups the advertiser wants to reach. This is done by collecting info about their users’ activity both on and off Facebook (more about this later) and breaking users down into demographics.
So how does this affect our lives? Advertisers on Facebook are able to target different ads to different groups of people, and these groups can be made incredibly specific. I created a Facebook Ad campaign to see what kind of demographics advertisers can target to using the data Facebook has collected:
Facebook gives companies the ability to target ads to people depending on their relationship status, sexual orientation, level of education, ethnicity, employment status, the age of their children, travel plans, and apps installed on their phone; among other things. Is this an ethical treatment of users’ data? When businesses advertise on Facebook they are given the ability (perhaps even encouraged) to concentrate their ads towards stereotyped groups of people. It’s safe to say many people would be at least a little disturbed by some of the “Defined Audience” groups mentioned above.
However, Facebook’s tracking of its users isn’t limited to Facebook itself. Facebook can also gather information about your behaviour on any website or app that you log into with Facebook (such as Spotify, Candy Crush, etc) and use this data to further categorise your profile.
There have been countless news articles and blog posts on this issue and although they receive large amounts of attention via Facebook (the irony) there’s never any lasting effect on how we use social media – it’s already too deeply embedded in our lifestyle to quit any time soon. Just the way Facebook wants it.