Have you ever noticed that Facebook’s ads seem suspiciously similar to whatever you last looked at on Amazon? Or Googled? Many people are aware that Facebook gathers data from other websites that you visit so they can target your ads to your unique tastes.
But some people have noticed that Facebook seems a little too attuned to what’s going on in the rest of their daily lives. For instance, have you ever casually mentioned something with a friend and then, an hour later you open Facebook and see an ad for that very thing? It might make you wonder if Facebook is not only tracking your footsteps on the internet but also listening in on your face-to-face interactions.
Facebook states explicitly that they are not using your microphone to listen to you. But with so many personal stories to the contrary, can we be sure that they’re telling the truth?
Facebook does collect extensive information on its users, and it admits that. It has over 52,000 categories that it places its users into target ads precisely. You can actually see what categories you have been placed in by going to Facebook and clicking Settings in the drop-down menu, then going to Your Information and clicking on the Your Categories tab.
Okay, so we know that Facebook is very good at personalizing its ad experience to individual users. But what about those personal anecdotes from people who said something and then had an ad pop up on Facebook an hour later, unrelated to any of their categories?
But even these occurrences can be explained. For example, say your mom does some online shopping for a new yoga mat. Facebook records this and also tracks her location and notices that she’s traveling. When she arrives at your home and mentions that she’s been looking for a new yoga mat, Facebook doesn’t hear her. But Facebook knows that’s she’s been shopping for a yoga mat, and she just traveled to your location. So Facebook targets yoga mat ads not just to your mom, but also to you because you’re in the same place as your mom and you’re Facebook friends with each other.
Basically, Facebook’s algorithms are incredibly complex and are exceptionally good at delivering ads perfectly targeted to you. But there is no evidence to suggest that Facebook is listening in on you through your microphone. If you’re still paranoid about how much Facebook knows about you, visit this page for tips on how to avoid being tracked by Facebook.
Adapted from https://gimletmedia.com/episode/109-facebook-spying/