Facebook obtains information about you from commercial data providers. It can include things like salary details, purchase information, eating habits, interests, etc. Facebook doesn’t tell people about this data which powers their Ad platform. A recent study conducted by ProPublica has shed more light on this matter.
Facebook tracks what you like, share, comment, and watch. It uses the data to power its ever-growing advertising platform which is a significant part of the company’s income resources. They know if you hate Donald Trump or not, you recently watched a superhero movie or some chilling horror flick.
Personally, I have observed that the items I browse on the internet are likely to show up in my news feed. That’s the level of interest Facebook has in our lives. However, they admit this thing, and their policies reflect it. Anyways, to some extent, it is fine if Facebook follows us just on the internet to serve better ads.
A report published by ProPublica throws light on the fact that Facebook tries to collect information about you from various offline sources as well. Facebook purchases data from commercial data brokers including Datalogix, Epsilon, Acxiom, etc. The data — including things like mortgage, salary details, restaurant choices, supermarket purchases, gender, location, etc. — is used to display relevant ads to the people.
ProPublica has tried to make an approximate database of such categories Facebook uses to classify people. Using a Chrome extension, they were able to include 52,000 categories in their database after crowdsourcing information from users.
Facebook doesn’t tell users about this data. It defended itself by saying Facebook itself doesn’t collect this data and the data brokers often provide it to other ad platforms.
If you want to get this information removed, according to Facebook, you’ll have to approach the data providers directly. And, it’s a tiresome process which involves authenticating yourself with a valid ID proof before the vendor would delete the information.
ProPublica says they downloaded a list of 29,000 categories — most of them auto-generated — Facebook offers to the advertisers, including 600 categories from third-party brokers. They note that the categories from commercial providers are mostly related with financial details. For example, ‘people having a household income between 100K and 125K’.
Also, the data broker provided categories that had no connection with any of the category Facebook displays in front of the users. You can check the interests by going into Settings > Ads > Ads based on my preferences > Visit Ad Preferences.
In the nutshell, Facebook wants to collect a handful of psychographic and other data related to its users. It doesn’t matter if it fuels their marketing platform. At least, Zuckerberg isn’t charging you for using Facebook. But he has to run his company and provide free Facebook to you. On the other hand, the question of privacy concern can’t be ignored.