We've all experienced talking about something or Googling a product and seeing an advertisment featuring the very same thing on our Facebook, right?
It's super creepy and we've all wondered if our phones are listening to our conversations and watching our every move.
The answer to the question is: yes. But it's not quite as straight forward as all that.
You're an open book
The truth is, Facebook and most other app that seem to be "evesdropping" on you don't even have to literally do that.
We leave a digital footprint on the internet every time we use it and we also tell Facebook more than we realise.
In 2019, we published an article
on this based on a talk by a former Google design ethicist, Tristan Harris, who explains how the app knows so much about you.
TL;DR: He basically says that that servers builds an online version of you based on your activities.
The more you use these servers, the more data you're giving the companies that run them, which in turn makes this "voodoo doll" more and more like you with each click.
Think about it, your phone is often linked to your Google account, which pretty much gives it access to everything you do on the device that you're so reliant on.
Then, you have Facebook, which besides the usual function of stalking friends you don't talk to anymore, you also use to connect to other platforms that requires you to log in.
Ever chosen the option of logging in using your Google or Facebook account because you're too lazy to fill in forms? Yeah, us too. This now gives the platforms even more data on you.
The Facebook connection
Speaking about connecting other apps to Facebook, we recently found out about "off-Facebook activities".
The company isn't exactly secretive about this feature. You can even find details on this on Facebook's Help Centre
Basically how off-Facebook activity works is that the social media site receives information about you from businesses, and from there, they use it to customise ads for you.
An example that was given is that if you click on a bag pack on a website, and the website notes that someone using a certain device has viewed that particular bag pack and decides to share the information with Facebook, the social media platform will then check if that device has a Facebook account.
It then advertises the very same product to you.
Which is why when you search for a certain product or have looked at it elsewhere, you end up seeing the product popping up as ads on your page.
Facebook assures that your private data such as name, age or where you're from is not shared with the businesses, but it doesn't quite lower the creepiness quotient. Not to us, at least.
You can control this
The good news is, you do have a little bit of control over this part at least. You can now review the apps that shares data with Facebook and block them from doing so.
You can also switch off the off-Facebook activities altogether. The video below explains how you can do this.
Now Facebook won't have as much data about you anymore! But does this mean you won't be getting targeted ads anymore? We doubt it.
While fiddling with the off-Facebook settings, we also discovered other things about the app.
The ad preference settings, for example.
Some things Facebook knows about you
If you have the time to play around with your settings, check out the ad preference parts as well.
This will give you an idea of how much Facebook knows about you and your interests.
It's not entirely accurate of course. For example, this writer's "interest categories"' included the Italian Democratic Party, some Arabic television channel and other things that didn't quite make sense.
But then again, searching for weird unlikely things is part and parcel of the job so that could be the reason for the inaccuracies.
If you're thinking you can just remove the information from the list, don't even bother.
Just to check if the information is collected through other apps owned by the same company, this writer removed everything under the "interest categories", opened Instagram and went back to the list.
True enough, some of the tags that I follow on Instagram appeared under the "interest categories" which was emptied just minutes ago.
We're no tech genius to say that Facebook-owned apps shares information across platforms, but we ain't gonna discount the possibilities.
Take it or leave it
While the internet makes our lives so much easier, the price we pay for the convenience is our privacy.
How many of us are going to give up social media, using popular search engines like Google or even read through the privacy policies and such before clicking on the "agree" button?
At the end of the day, our choice is between giving up on most social media platforms and the internet in general, and being more informed of our choices to choose the lesser evil.
What's your choice?