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Privacy: how does Facebook target its ads?

An interesting and slightly scary report has been published in the Washington Post, outlining the ways that Facebook acquires and utilizes your personal data to serve more relevant adverts.

Facebook has become one of the biggest ad networks in the world – data harvesting is much easier when you have well over a billion registered users feeding your systems on the daily – and by the looks of this report, the social network is using more and more personal data points to ensure the ads displayed when you log onto are alarmingly well-matched to your interests and situation.

It’s common knowledge that Facebook targets ads based on your location, age, gender and so on, but it’s surprising to see such a huge list of data points laid out; Facebook uses a network of website tracking techniques and old-school data harvesting from third parties to learn things like your income, your political leanings, where you work, whether or not you own a home, if you like gaming, if you’re planning to buy a car, if you’re an early adopter of tech, what kind of clothes you buy, and more.

Opinions are split on whether or not this is, broadly speaking, a good thing. On the one hand, targeted ads have much higher potential to show you genuinely interesting or useful stuff, making internet ads on the whole a more pleasant experience. On the other hand, though, the privacy implications of one company bundling so much personal information about you is more than a little worrisome. To help make your own mind up, the full article, “98 personal data points that Facebook uses to target ads to you,” is an enlightening read.

Further reading: what does Apple do with our personal data?