A BuzzFeed journalist recently used a Facebook transparency tool to investigate the sort of companies utilizing her data for advertising, finding her personal data was “everywhere” with “no control.”
BuzzFeed News reporter
On Facebook under Settings, there’s a page in the Ads section where you can view your Ad Preferences. Most of this is fairly straightforward — choices about how you’ll allow ads and how advertisers target you based on things like what pages you’ve liked. But there’s one section there that will probably surprise you: a list of advertisers “Who use a contact list added to Facebook.”
Check yours out right now (I’ll wait, just try it). According to the description, “These advertisers are running ads using a contact list they or their partner uploaded that includes info about you. This info was collected by the advertiser or their partner. Typically this information is your email address or phone number.”
The list of Advertisers, a feature Facebook added for transparency, is incomprehensible to anyone who isn’t an expert in advertising (and even some who are!), and leads to the unsettling realization that, fuck, man, our data is out there and trafficked without our consent and being used by advertisers in ways we have no clue about.
Following the link provided by Notopoulos provides Facebook users with a large list of advertisers, many of which may have seemingly no relation to the user. Notopoulous explains how these advertisers appear on this list writing:
It turns out this long list of advertisers represents several sides of digital advertising that extends beyond Facebook: traditional ad targeting, influencers and sponsored content, and advertisers on Facebook who leverage personal data from the giant data brokers.
1. Places where you’re actually a customer: The first group is what you’d expect to see. For example, mine has places I’ve shopped online, like Target and JetBlue, as well as web services I use, like Hulu, Venmo, and Fandango.
2. Sponcon influencers who post ads for a company that has your email: My list includes a bunch of pages for lifestyle bloggers who have done sponsored posts for ThirdLove bras. The thing is, I don’t follow any of these influencers — so why are they on my page? I had to think back: Once, I provided my email for a quiz to find my “true bra size” from ThirdLove. So when ThirdLove promoted a post by an influencer using a customer list (that I was now on), those influencers then appeared on my advertiser list. Confusing! No customer data is actually transferred between ThirdLove and the influencer, according to a representative for ThirdLove.
3. Businesses that pay data brokers for access to you: Here’s where things get spicy — companies that you’ve had no interaction with before but that have access to your data. Until a few months ago, Facebook used large data brokers, like Acxiom and Oracle, as partners in its advertising platform to power its Partner Categories feature for advertisers. Basically, anonymized personal data from these data companies was baked into the Facebook Ad platform, accessible to advertisers from big digital marketing agencies to one-person businesses selling hand-knitted beer koozies.
Notopolous notes that while Facebook has promised to provide users with more information on how or why advertisers are seeing their data, it doesn’t change the fact that the advertisers are in possession of this private data.
Read the full article at BuzzFeed News here.