As the most popular social network, Facebook wants to be the “be-all, end-all” destination for the web. The company knows an awful lot of information about its users. Here’s how to find out what it knows about you.
In a Nielsen Media research study from 2010, Facebook is the second-most visited website in the US, just behind Google. As of Q32016, Facebook reached 1.79 billion monthly active users. That is a lot of eyeballs that businesses want to reach.
Facebook is notorious for tracking you across the web through its Like and Share buttons. That’s right; every website with one of these buttons can potentially track you. And that data goes back to Facebook, where the company builds an advertising profile around you. Through the social network, we also voluntarily give up personal information and private details about our life. Facebook is likely to know where you live, work and play.
ProPublica has a Chrome extension that helps you figure out how Facebook collects your data. It’s easy to set up and use, but it doesn’t cover everything. For the rest, we’ll have to do it manually.
Like Google, Facebook has a section on its website that shows what kinds of categories it thinks you like, based on posts you’ve liked and shared. To find it, go to General Account Settings > Ads > Ads based on my preferences.
In the middle of the page you’ll see a section called Interests. Each tile represents an interest and Facebook organizes the interests under different categories such as:
- Business and industry
- Hobbies and activities
- Travel, places, and events
- Food and drink
- Lifestyle and culture
Unlike Google, where you can stop how the company collects your data through activities, Facebook doesn’t let you do this. You can remove each interest to make sure you don’t see ads about it, but you’ll still see ads. The ads just won’t be as relevant to you.
The most interesting section is Lifestyle and culture. This is where you’ll find personal things that Facebook knows about you: political views, sexual orientation, your location, etc. Granted, most people willingly give up this sort of information. But it can still be disconcerting to see them in an advertising profile. Sources that Facebook uses includes your profile, location, activity (especially likes) and websites you visit besides Facebook.
If you see an ad in your newsfeed, you can click on the arrow on the upper right of the post. Then, you’ll see options like “Hide ad” and “Why am I seeing this?”