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Does Facebook know you better than you know yourself? It thinks it does.

Could it be possible that Facebook knows you better than you know yourself? If you’re one of the over 2 billion Facebook users, then you have likely shared at least some personal data with the most popular social media platform in the world.

Facebook App

If you’re a long-time user of the platform, then Facebook has amassed hordes of data related to your interests, hobbies, online browsing habits, relationship status, race/ethnicity, and possibly even your political leanings over the years. All of this data is collected based on the apps you use, the posts you like and engage with, as well as your online browsing activities, and is used by Facebook to paint a picture of who you are and what interests you have in order for the platform to inject highly-targeted advertisements into your feed. 

Tech giants like Facebook, Google, and Amazon rely on collecting every possible shred of user data they can in order to develop detailed profiles of their users and help them dominate the global digital advertising market. It’s not by accident that Facebook ad space is so highly coveted by advertisers; the social network employs an extremely sophisticated algorithm which categorizes users interests and interactions with the platform into detailed profiles that allow advertisers to engage in hyper-targeted ad placement. If an advertiser has access to such detailed data sets, then the advertiser can more effectively place ads on users’ feeds that the user is more likely to click on and convert into a sale. Facebook’s ad space is so valuable because Facebook has thoroughly developed this process of user profiling, and put simply, is really good at it.

But how accurate is Facebook’s picture of you? How well does Facebook really know you? Could Facebook really know you better than you know yourself?

A study conducted by the Pew Research Center set out to find out precisely how accurate Facebook users found the platform’s categorization of their own characteristics, interests, and personalities. As part of the study, participants were asked to review the categories listed on their Facebook ad preferences page. According to the study, nearly three-quarters (74%) of participants were not even aware that this page existed listing their interests and traits. 

Out of the sample of 963 American adults who participated in the study, 88% responded that they found their ad preferences page generated at least some material related to their interests. 59% of those surveyed responded that the page accurately reflected their interests, while 27% indicated that the page did not produce an accurate representation of them. Interestingly, just over half (51%) of participants responded that they were not comfortable with Facebook generalizing them in this way by creating a list representing their supposed interests. That said, just 5% of participants responded that they were “very comfortable” with Facebook categorizing their interests in this manner. Another notable finding from the study indicates that 78% of the participants who claimed that Facebook’s categorizations did not accurately represent them responded that they were not comfortable with Facebook creating this list for them.

Taking all of this into account, it appears that for the most part, Facebook is exceptionally (perhaps frighteningly) accurate at predicting the personality traits of its users. The Pew Research Center study was not the first to delve into and examine the power of Facebook’s ability to accurately assess its users. Two previous studies from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS) indicated that Facebook’s personality judgments of its users were more accurate than the judgments of users’ closest friends and relatives and that Facebook was able to predict depression in users based on content shared in users’ posts before an official medical diagnosis was made. These studies show just how powerful computer algorithms can be in evaluating human personality and wellbeing. Social media platforms like Facebook have the ability to store gargantuan amounts of user data and use sophisticated algorithms to consistently and accurately gauge their users’ personality traits. Humans, on the other hand, simply do not have the capacity to store and analyze data on even the same scale. These algorithms will only get more and more sophisticated and increasingly accurate going forward and will continue to significantly outpace human analytic capacity. Facebook reaching the point of knowing you better than you know yourself would certainly be a frightening prospect for many. The Pew Research study and others before it have shown that there are certain instances where it is already getting to that point. 

If you are concerned about how Facebook handles your data and how the platform categorizes your interests to build a profile of your personality, then there are a few things you can do to protect your privacy when using the site. First of all, you can opt out of the settings on your ad preferences page to limit what data Facebook uses to serve you advertisements. Secondly, you can access your privacy settings to limit who can see your posts and access your personal information on the site. Finally, it’s always best to practice common sense and restrict what data and information you share with Facebook and others

 addition to re-evaluating how you interact with Facebook and other social media platforms to protect your privacy, it is imperative to sign on with a quality VPN provider. The best VPN providers can help you protect your online privacy by masking your IP address and encrypting all of your internet activity to ensure you stay safe when using Facebook or browsing the web in general.       

Written by: Attila Tomaschek

Attila is a Hungarian-American currently living in Budapest. Being in the VPN game for over 5 years, along with his acute understanding of the digital privacy space enables him to share his expertise with ProPrivacy readers. Attila has been featured as a privacy expert in press outlets such as Security Week, Silicon Angle, Fox News, Reader’s Digest, The Washington Examiner, Techopedia, Disruptor Daily, DZone, and more. He has also contributed bylines for several online publications like SC Magazine UK, Legal Reader, ITProPortal, BetaNews, and Verdict.


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