July 28, 2017

Is Facebook stalking me?

We’re all aware that Facebook is taking over the world, and with great power comes great responsibility… and great advertising revenue. Your timeline is probably filled with more news from Facebook business pages than from Great Aunt Shirley, and some of those pages you may have never even heard of before.

When a business pays for Facebook advertising, there is a whole host of options for targeting the content to the relevant audience. Beyond the standard age, location, blah blah blah, targeting gets really niche. I’m not here to give you a step-by-step guide (call and book an appointment for that, please), but as someone who uses the platform on a daily basis (not just the garden variety stalking, either), I’m here to provide an insight in to how Facebook is getting to you.

Pregnant or pixel?

Now, don’t get me wrong, Facebook doesn’t always get ad delivery right. I am constantly being served ads along the lines of “you’re going to be a mum!” – wrong Facebook, very wrong. But there’s a reason for this, and I can see how Facebook managed to hit a little left of centre. Ever heard of the Facebook Pixel? It’s a nice tidy piece of code that businesses can put on their website to keep track of what you’re doing while you’re there, and then send that information back to Facebook so you can be served relevant ads. See how that scarf from ASOS keeps following you around? Not a coincidence. Chances are ASOS used that nice little piece of code to track which items you looked at, lingered over, maybe even added to your shopping cart, and then waited for you to come back to Facebook, so they could show it to you again. “Forgot something?” Yes actually, thanks ASOS and Facebook, I did, shut up and take my money. So it’s only natural that when one of my best friends got pregnant, and I started searching for gifts (designer barf bags, baby bum fans, foetus necklaces), that Facebook interpreted those searches, combined with my personal information (female, 30), to mean that I was expecting. Jokes on you Facebook, your data scientists got it wrong.

See for yourself…

  There is a quick way to check why you’re being served particular ads, if you’re ever curious. You can safely assume that the platform is going to keep its hand close to its chest, but you’ll get a basic overview. When you see an ad in your timeline, you’ll see a little arrow in the top right corner. Give it a click, and you’ll be presented with some options, including “Why am I seeing this?” Depending on the nature of the targeting used by the creator of the ad, you’ll get a range of information. The one I’ve chosen to show you is quite detailed, and makes a lot of sense. I like cooking (maybe just food?); I am obsessed with those Tasty videos in my timeline. I will like any page that shows me a nice video of someone stirring a cake mixture. Then there’s the personal information (age), as well as my location (NSW), which they tell me they found out by seeing where I connected to the Internet. Trust me, by no means do I think that’s everything – but it’s enough to put your mind at ease. For me, as someone who spends hours agonising over demographics and targets, it’s also a good exercise in seeing who has been lazy with their ads. You know who you are.

Is that it?

I’m hearing more and more reports of people who have been discussing an obscure topic in the presence of their phone that has the Facebook and Facebook Messenger apps installed, only to have that topic show up in their News Feed. So, is Facebook listening to everything we say? That’s a story for another day… Want to up your stalking game? Give me a call or just shoot me an email.