Facebook Knows You Better Than You Know Yourself

Who do you think knows you best? Your best friend? Your mom? Your partner?

The fact is Facebook knows more about you or at least thinks it does than you probably think. From following your activity on the internet to cataloging your likes and shares, Facebook has gathered a vast wealth of characteristics to define each of their 1.86 billion monthly active users.

Every time you log into Facebook, every time you click “like” on a photo or send something via Messenger, you are giving Facebook data about yourself and your behavior.

How do they get their information?

Facebook uses a number of sources to determine who you are and what you’ll like, ad-wise. The easiest source of data is what you give them. When you fill out your profile information, when you “like” something, when you comment on a post, and when you share your location with Facebook you are actively giving them your profile. Facebook’s algorithm then uses this information to figure out which ads you’re most likely to respond to.

But these aren’t the only sources of Facebook information.

Many non-Facebook websites use a tracking tool called Facebook Pixel that reports information back to the social giant. A Facebook Pixel is a small piece of JavaScript code that tells Facebook what kind of content you’re looking at when you’re no longer on Facebook. The pixel has many uses. Some sites use this tool to show you an ad on your newsfeed for the item you were looking at yesterday on their site. It’s also how Facebook knows that you’re perhaps shopping for an engagement ring even though you haven’t even told your best friend.

All of Facebook’s companies including Instagram, WhatsApp, and Oculus also receive and send pixel data.

So, what do they know?

Facebook wants your ads to be as relevant and as useful to you as possible. So, they allow advertisers to target you based on certain parameters. Apart from the information they gather from you on their own, they also allow marketers to target ads using data compiled by offline firms like Experian which gather profiles on people over the years through government and public records, contests, surveys, and private sources. In fact, there are about 98 current options for Facebook advertisers.

These include anything from basics like location, age, gender, language, and education to more abstract parameters like motorcycle and timeshare ownership.

Facebook can even get eerily specific, allowing marketers to target users who have an anniversary within 30 days, those who live away from their hometown, those in long-distance relationships, and those who have recently moved.

Facebook even determines if you’re more conservative or liberal and allows advertisers to market to a certain political base.

Who you are, according to Facebook

It’s surprisingly easy to see just what information Facebook has on you. All you have to do is visit your ad preferences. You can also access this page by going to your Facebook settings, clicking ads on the left navigation, selecting “Ads based on my preferences”, and clicking the button that appears.

Your ad preferences can be seen from any device, but it’s easier to manage on a desktop or laptop screen.

Below the informational slider and box that says “Your info”, you’ll find the Interests section. Each image square represents an interest, and Facebook organizes your interests under various categories including business and industry, lifestyle and culture, sports, news, entertainments, people, and technology.

That’s it! A master list, or at least what they’re willing to share, of everything Facebook knows about you. All you have to do is go through this list. If you see something that you think shouldn’t belong – or you’d rather not have belong – just click the “X” that appears in the upper-right corner of the square when you hover over it. This should remove or at least reduce any ads you see related to that content.

If you only want to see the information and not edit it, the non-profit news organization, ProPublica, has also built a Chrome extension to help users examine and analyze what Facebook has collected about them.

Who else knows this?

Facebook’s business model is built on giving advertisers and marketers the ability to micro-target users. But who has already received this data?

Once you’re done looking at your interests, scroll down further on that page and you can look at the “Advertisers” area. Here, you’ll see the Facebook advertisers that already have your contact information. You can remove any of these advertisers and Facebook allows you to actually hide ads from specific organizations or companies.

Did you find this article useful? Were your ad preference interests on Facebook eerily accurate or completely off-base? Share your experience with us on Facebook or Twitter.