What Does Facebook Know About Your Private Life

 

Mark Zuckerberg and his Facebook team make their billions of dollars by advertising down to the micro-level — down to an audience of one — you. Everything you do on Facebook, and even while you’re not on Facebook, is tracked, analyzed, and fed into big-data machines.

 

Every Facebook user has a defined persona. What you do, what you care about, where you go, what you eat, who you like, and more is tracked, analyzed, and used to determine what types of content and messages you’re likely to enjoy, and respond to. Like never before, with this data, advertisers can laser-target their messages. So if you’re an advertiser wanting to reach people in Minneapolis who like football, dogs, occasionally drink red wine, and who often travel, then Facebook is your vehicle.

 

It’s all a bit scary and certainly big-brother-ish.

 

What if Facebook’s understanding of me is spot on? What gives them the right to know all that information, other than I guess I gave up all of my privacy rights when I created my Facebook account?

 

What if the persona that Facebook assigns to me is wrong? Could the information about me in Facebook’s database be used against me someday? Could I lose out on an opportunity? Could I get on some sort of government or private company list that ultimately makes my life more difficult, for example, I am more scrutinized at airports?

 

So what does Facebook know about me? What does Facebook know about you?

 

The good news is, the situation isn’t as ominous as it might appear. In fact, you can see your Facebook persona by first logging into your Facebook account, and then using the Ad Preference Tools.

 

Open the Ad Preference Tools and you’ll see a navigation menu about half way down the screen. Click on the links to see your persona, as it relates to a specific category. Make sure to click the MORE link on the right of the navigation bar to open the drop-down menu, where you can select additional categories including Food and Drink, Fashion, and more.

 

Some of what Facebook thinks it knows about me is eerily accurate. Yes, I do have an iPhone 6, an iPad 4, my laptop operating system is Windows 10, and my primary browser is Chrome. Obviously it’s pretty easy for Facebook to figure those out.

 

Facebook also got it right that I enjoy studying personal finance, e-commerce, search technologies and professional keynote speaking; that I think public libraries are awesome; that I enjoy improvisational comedy; that I’m a big fan of Jill Konrath’s and Sean Stephenson’s work; that I like eating kebob’s; that I enjoy Dale Carnegie books and Napoleon Hill’s Think and Grow Rich; and my fantasy superpower is time travel.

 

What is annoying is that my Facebook persona — or who Facebook thinks I am and shares that information with advertisers — includes some wildly inaccurate data.

 

For example, I am not a Socialist (furthest thing from it); I enjoy post-punk rock (are Journey, John Meyer, and Yanni considered punk, and is it okay that I publicly just admitted that I listen to Yanni?); I watch the TV series Derek (never heard of it); and that my favorite airline is Sun Country (nice airline that I occasionally fly, but just in the last few years I have flown more than 1.5 million miles on Delta).

 

So how does Facebook gather this information?

 

Ad Preference Tools makes it pretty easy to find that out too. Just hover your mouse over any of the content squares and Facebook shows you what you did to add that content to your persona. And, because even Mark Zuckerberg and his team understands that “big data” still has a long way to go, Facebook allows you to modify your persona.

 

To do so, hover your mouse over an Ad Preference Tools content box and in the upper-right corner of the box, click the “X” to remove the selected information from your persona profile.

 

In addition, you can click the “Edit Profile” link on the upper-right of the Ad Preference Tools page, and modify the Facebook profile that you created when you opened your Facebook account. The demographic data (e.g., age, where you live, where you work, etc.) that you provided Facebook when you opened your account, and that you may have added to over time, is still the number one factor Facebook uses to craft your persona and use with its advertisers.

 

So now you know how to access and change your Facebook persona, and even take control over some of the content and ads you see within Facebook, now that you Know More.

 

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