Be careful what you do both on and off Facebook.
Re-thinking the Role of the Media: What is Facebook Doing With Your Info?

March 23, 2015

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.

Since its creation, Facebook has been consistently criticised for collecting and storing data about its users; this is nothing new. Facebook states right in their Privacy Policy what data they collect about you and how they use it. However, Facebook has also come under fire for padding out their User Agreements with seemingly meaningless statements, in order to further discourage users from reading it. So what exactly is Facebook doing with your info, and how does it affect us?

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:

The list of options Facebook provides to advertisers - their primary source of income.

The list of options Facebook provides to advertisers – their primary source of income.

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.

Many Facebook users accept that Facebook is collecting and retaining their data, but most aren’t aware of how far this data collection goes – that Facebook is tracking you even after you’ve logged out. The vast majority of people who use Facebook don’t know that ads are being targeted to them based on things such as their ethnicity, sexual orientation, etc; and would certainly think twice about creating an account if this in the first sentence of Facebook’s privacy statement. There’s simply no way for regular users to know how their information is being presented to advertisers, not even in Facebook’s privacy policy. This gives Facebook users every right to be anxious abut the effects of Facebook on their lives, and to what extent they are being stereotyped by Facebook and their advertising partners.

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.


Cover imageFacebook’s privacy policyFacebook’s Ad Creation pageWhat Does Facebook Know About YouMySecureCyberspace – What Facebook Collects and SharesSlate – What Facebook Won’t Tell You About Personal Data Collection.

  • Hey Matt,

    The layout of your blog and the paragraph spacing is absolutely killer, it was awesome reading your blog post and it really hits home to me as an avid Facebook user. It’s cool how you tackled Media Effects through Facebook and how they’re using user personal info, and it’s definitely interesting how you created an ad campaign and used the image as a source to back up the adverse effects of Facebook selling user information.

    I can understand why Facebook goes to significant lengths to categorize and appeal to users with personalized advertising since at heart they definitely are an advertising company which sets out to make money. Also, tracking the sites users frequent isn’t entirely new and it’s not dissimilar to using cookies, however it definitely is concerning that logging out of their website is not enough to deter the slew of information that Facebook gathers about its users.

  • I really liked this blog post, Matt! Very effective in portraying what you had to say in a clear and understandable manner. As a Facebook user myself, and I’m sure I speak on behalf of many others when I say this, we don’t read the terms/conditions…ever. It’s lengthy and we think it’s repetitive. But in reality it isn’t, and a prime example to where we may turn a blind eye to the reality is on Facebook. Many of us don’t realise just how heavily we are being tracked and although some say they feel violated…well…we can’t really blame anyone but ourselves as we agreed to the terms and conditions.
    Although to a certain extent it can violate our own privacy, it is just too hard for businesses and advertising companies to pass up. With 1.3 Billion people actively using the social media site (as of 28/1/15 it provides a stellar atmosphere for successful advertising goals to flourish. And within those 1.3 Billion people, some of them will actively use Facebook for many hours in the day. Thus, the audience is almost always available. On a moral basis it may not be very ethical, but on a business standpoint it is a witty and clever way to engage with the public and extenuates the importance of social media in our society today.
    Great post, look forward to more in the future. ☺

  • Awesome blog post! You really touch based on some really good points. Facebook is pretty much a huge factor in everyone’s lives. So many people use it on a day-to-day basis yet no one really thinks about what kind of information is being collected from their profile (myself included). Since children are now able to access such platforms more easily, it’s hard to imagine just how many are creating Facebook accounts, being completely oblivious to the terms and conditions. They are essentially an audience that is easier for Facebook and businesses to target for marketing purposes. After reading this, it really opens your eyes as to how far they will go in order to make profits and use/ collect data for future purposes. As a regular Facebook user like many others, it’s kind of scary to think about really. You use the site so often that you don’t stop to think about what goes on behind the scenes. What this data is used for? We don’t know.

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