Facebook’s Data Collection Practices Revealed (It’s a bit scary!)

By Tim Burd - September 24, 2017 3888 Views
By Tim Burd - September 24, 2017 3889 Views

We all know Facebook collects data. But, did you know to what extent? We’ve all been there. You’re scrolling your News Feed only to come across an ad that just seems almost too good to be true. How did they know I wanted that? Or, better yet, how did they get my info in the first place? It’s a pretty common occurrence these days when browsing your news feed and people are really starting to take notice. In this article, we will go over how Facebook accomplishes this, data collection and how they are now using AI to further refine the practice.

How Facebook Data Collection Works:

Since 2012 Facebook has been buying consumer data from third-party data brokers allowing advertisers to access over 600 various points of your personal data. Once all of the data is aggregated from the various providers it gives Facebook a scary amount of information on your personal behaviors, interests, and demographics. This doesn’t even include all of the data Facebook has that you provided directly to Facebook such as the movies you like, tv shows, books, who you are friends with, where you went to high school, where you have checked in etc etc etc. One could argue that Facebook’s algorithm actually knows more about you than most of your closest friends and family members. Crazy, right?

Information from data brokers such as Acxiom, Oracle, Datalogix, and Epsilon are all included in Facebook advertising categories. These third party data collection companies are compiling information from credit card providers, public databases, mailing lists, browsing cookies and much, much more! Once the broker collects the data they then sell it off to Facebook and add it your “behavior profile”. That’s right, Visa and Mastercard sell your data of what you purchased to third-party data companies who then aggregate it and put you into categories like “Likely to Buy Health Products” or “In the market for a new car”.

You may have recently heard of the story of the girl whose father found out she was pregnant? Well, it happened through a Target promotion, and before she ever mentioned anything to anyone in her family.

How Target Figured Out A Teen Girl Was Pregnant Before Her Father Did

“As Pole’s computers crawled through the data, he was able to identify about 25 products that, when analyzed together, allowed him to assign each shopper a “pregnancy prediction” score. More important, he could also estimate her due date to within a small window, so Target could send coupons timed to very specific stages of her pregnancy.

One Target employee I spoke to provided a hypothetical example. Take a fictional Target shopper named Jenny Ward, who is 23, lives in Atlanta and in March bought cocoa-butter lotion, a purse large enough to double as a diaper bag, zinc and magnesium supplements and a bright blue rug. There’s, say, an 87 percent chance that she’s pregnant and that her delivery date is sometime in late August.” – Forbes

While this might be new information to some of you. The fact of the matter is, almost every major retailer, grocery store chain, and financial institution is a data collection machine. I mean why not? They have the information, why not make some money off of it, and use it to their advantage?

When pairing all of the purchase information with your public profile, search history, contacts, friends list, and even things as simple as the settings on your account. It allows Facebook to create a profile so complex that one could argue that they have one of the most robust databases in the world. Here is a graph that should give you an idea of the scope of their data collection practices…

Click on Image for Full Photo | Source: ShareLab
Click on Image for Full Photo | Source: ShareLab

Artificial Intelligence is Taking This to a Whole New Level

While all of this has been going on for several years now, and Facebook is definitely reaping the rewards. That’s not where this story ends. More recently the company has been refining another technology. Taking their data collection practices to a whole new level. Even beyond just predicting behaviors. Facebook is now using their ‘Applied Machine Learning’ technologies with their existing processes to gain an even better understanding of our customers.

The Applied Machine Learning is able to connect all the dots they were not previously able to detect. And, it is now learning at an exponential rate. While this might be a little unnerving to know they have all that information, the truth of the matter is that this is really amazing news for marketers and advertisers. With Facebook implementing all of these various tactics, and with the innovation in new technologies. They are allowing us to target our audiences with amazing precision, and it is only getting better.

Well, that’s all for now everyone. Thank you again for reading our blog. Please feel free to let us know if you have any insights, questions, or suggestions in the comments below.

Pro Tip: If you would like the companies mentioned above to stop gathering your data. Please feel free to visit Evidon where you can do a “Global Opt-Out” and prevent these companies from gathering & recording your personal information.

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