The fact that Facebook always seems to know what ads to show me has creeped me out for a little while now. Today, my interest was peaked further when a classmate told me that Facebook can listen to you. I've decided that I need to find some answers for myself and you all about what Facebook is actually using to help advertisers learn about (stalk) us.
The first thing I discovered, which I suppose should have been obvious, is that Facebook isn't just Facebook. Facebook also owns Instagram and WhatsApp. According to their website, they use your interests indicated on these sites to tailor ads to you. This wasn't so creepy. I assumed that what I put on my profile or liked on Facebook would be used for this purpose.
Things start getting a little more interesting when looking into what is called a Facebook pixel. Essentially, advertisers can add pixels to their web pages' codes that help track consumer behavior and engagement online. It then matches interests with ads to show on Facebook. If you've downloaded an app, made a purchase, or even just viewed the webpage, they know. Facebook allows the advertiser to tailor who gets more attention for some products based on things like age and location (yeah, they track you through your GPS or IP address).
What sort of things does Facebook take from your clicks and uploads to build a profile of you for advertisers? I'll use my own Facebook as an example. Facebook indicates that it uses my relationship status, knows what kind of phone and computer I use (and their operating systems), keeps track of what apps I install on my phone, and found out I live in a "housemate-based household." If you click on an ad or page that has a similar audience to another company's, you may start seeing more ads from that second similar company as well.
As for the rumors about Facebook listening to us, it does seem to be false. Facebook released a statement on their blog stating that the app can access the microphone, but it does not listen to your conversations to target advertising. Instead, the microphone aspect is necessary for certain features like audio in Messenger.
To be fair, Facebook is transparent about these issues on the site. If you go to your settings, you can find all sorts of information about what Facebook is taking from your internet usage. You can also adjust various ad settings. For example, you can hide ads on a particular topic, such as alcohol. You may remove certain companies that Facebook has determined interest you. Even for fun, you should go on to see what it "thinks" of you. I enjoyed learning that 60 percent of my hobbies section included puppies (French bulldog specifically) and kittens. They are nothing if not thorough, because it also knows I have car insurance with State Farm, eat my heart out at Chipotle, and engage in a little retail therapy at Nordstrom.