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Hard questions: What information do Facebook advertisers know about me?

Facebook has provided responses to some of the frequently asked questions regarding how the company manages user data. This was made public by Rob Goldman, Facebook’s Vice President, Ads in the latest edition of Hard Questions, a series from Facebook that addresses the impact of its products on the society.

“To build a product that connects people across continents and cultures, we need to make sure everyone can afford it. Advertising lets us keep Facebook free. But we aren’t blind to the challenges this model poses. It requires a steadfast commitment to privacy.

“So our promise is this: we do not tell advertisers who you are or sell your information to anyone. That has always been true. We think relevant advertising and privacy aren’t in conflict, and we’re committed to doing both well.

“We know that many of you have questions about how we use your information in advertising – and what control you have over it. I’ll address some of the most frequent questions we get, but first I’ll lay out the basic mechanics of Facebook advertising,” said Goldman.

Goldman further listed ways that advertisers can reach users on Facebook with ads:

  • Information from your use of Facebook. When you use Facebook, you can choose to share things about yourself like your age, gender, hometown, or friends. You can also click or like posts, Pages, or articles. We use this information to understand what you might be interested in and hopefully show you ads that are relevant. If a bike shop comes to Facebook wanting to reach female cyclists in Atlanta, we can show their ad to women in Atlanta who liked a Page about bikes. But here’s what’s key: these businesses don’t know who you are. We provide advertisers with reports about the kinds of people seeing their ads and how their ads are performing, but we don’t share information that personally identifies you. You can always see the ‘interests’ assigned to you in your ad preferences, and if you want, remove them.
  • Information that an advertiser shares with us. In this case, advertisers bring us the customer information so they can reach those people on Facebook. These advertisers might have your email address from a purchase you made, or from some other data source. We find Facebook accounts that match that data, but we don’t tell the advertiser who matched. In ad preferences you can see which advertisers with your contact information are currently running campaigns – and you can click the top right corner of any ad to hide all ads from that business.
  • Information that websites and apps send to Facebook. Some of the websites and apps you visit may use Facebook tools to make their content and ads more relevant and better understand the results of their ad campaigns. For example, if an online retailer is using Facebook Pixel, they can ask Facebook to show ads to people who looked at a certain style of shoe or put a pair of shoes into their shopping cart. If you don’t want this data used to show you ads, you can turn it off in ad preferences. My colleague David Baser shared more detail about how we, and others in the industry, use this information in a post earlier this week.

Goldman also listed and answered some of the questions frequently asked around Facebook’s advertising practices:

If I’m not paying for Facebook, am I the product?

No. Our product is social media – the ability to connect with the people that matter to you, wherever they are in the world. It’s the same with a free search engine, website or newspaper. The core product is reading the news or finding information – and the ads exist to fund that experience.

 

If you’re not selling advertisers my data, what are you giving them?

We sell advertisers space on Facebook – much like TV or radio or newspapers do. We don’t sell your information. When an advertiser runs a campaign on Facebook, we share reports about the performance of their ad campaign. We could, for example, tell an advertiser that more men than women responded to their ad, and that most people clicked on the ad from their phone.

 

Why does Facebook need all this data?

As people use Facebook, they share information and content – whether it’s liking a post, sharing a photo or updating their profile. We use this information to give you a better service. For example, we can show you photos from your closest friends at the top of your News Feed, or show you articles about issues that matter most to you, or suggest groups that you might want to join.

Data also helps us show you better and more relevant ads. And it lets advertisers reach the right people, including millions of small businesses and non-profits who rely on Facebook every day to reach people that might be interested in their product or cause. Data lets a local coffee shop survive and grow amid larger competitors by showing ads to customers in its area. And it lets a non-profit promote a diabetes fundraiser to those interested in the cause.

What if I don’t want my data used to show me ads?

You can’t opt out of ads altogether because ads are what keep Facebook free, but you do have different options to control how your data can and can’t be used to show you ads. They’re all found in ad preferences.

You can decide which of your profile fields you want used for ad targeting in the Information section under “About You.” You can remove yourself from interests under “Interests” and categories under “Your Categories.” You can turn off ads that use data from apps or websites that you visit in the Ads Settings section under “Ads based on use of websites and apps.”

Digital advertising is relatively new and has radically changed since the early days of banner ads on the top of a website. But the promise of digital advertising is that it can show you ads for products, services, and causes that may actually be of interest to you. And for small businesses, it levels the playing field and lets them reach an audience that they never could have before. You get better ads, advertisers get a tailored audience and everyone on Facebook gets our firm commitment to privacy.

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