Is Facebook Eavesdropping on Your Conversations?

It’s an experience many can relate to: you’re simply talking about a topic, like an item you need for your home, when an ad for that very item shows up in your Facebook feed moments later.

Yes, it can almost feel like the social network is spying on you via your own computer or phone. Luckily, that’s not the case. Facebook’s targeted advertising technology is simply so advanced that it can anticipate your needs and interests to the point that it almost feels like someone is listening in on your conversations. Here’s what makes Facebook ads so powerful, to the point of inspiring paranoia. 

The Power of the Facebook Pixel

Obviously, Facebook can learn a lot about your interests based on your posts and searches. If you search for a favorite band’s Facebook page, don’t be surprised when ads for their upcoming tour start to appear.

What many people don’t realize is that Facebook can also monitor your behavior even when you’re not technically using it. That’s due to Facebook Pixel, which is already installed on millions of websites. 

Unbeknownst to most users, if you’re on a site with Facebook Pixel installed, Facebook can still track how much time you spend on that site, whether you make a purchase from it, and more. This allows the company to gather a lot more information about users, resulting in ads that are often extremely specific.

Utilizing Third-Party Data Aggregators Means More Accurate Facebook Ads

Facebook can also monitor your location. Check-ins, latitude-longitude data from mobile phones, and similar sources of information all give the social network an idea of where you are. The ads you see will shift to reflect your location. 

For instance, if you’re visiting a new city, you’re likely to see more ads for businesses in the area. It can even work on a small scale. Check-in at your local mall, and maybe you’ll get ads for brands within that mall.

All that data has been very useful to Facebook. That’s why the company has also found ways to learn about your offline activity. According to reporters who have investigated the topic, Facebook purchases information from organizations that sell credit reports. 

This allows the company to learn about your income, spending habits, and even loyalty programs you’ve signed up for at stores. The data Facebook collects accumulates, so the longer you’ve had an account, the more information Facebook can use to select which ads you see. 

Yes, this can feel somewhat invasive, but it doesn’t mean Facebook is legitimately spying on you. Being good at collecting data isn’t the same thing as listening in on your private conversations. Of course, when it results in extremely specific ads, it can certainly feel that way.