Why targeted Facebook ads should worry you

You know Facebook is tracking you, right?

Most of us know that it’s no secret why we see the exact advertisements that we see on Facebook and Instagram. Obviously, the social media platforms leverage their data to put the right ads in front of the right eyeballs.

It makes sense to put an advert for baby clothes in front of a new mother; dresses in front of a 20-something socialite; sporting goods in front of a footy-mad dad. Right?


But what about when it gets a little murkier?

For instance: how do you feel about Facebook and Instagram offering casino deals to the email addresses of people suspected of having a gambling addiction?

Or putting expensive gamer ads in front of teenagers?

According to a new report on Gizmodo, the ways in which these social media giants are profiting from our data is staggering.

Now, I’ve had this conversation IRL before, and people don’t seem to care. “Oh, I’m not hiding anything, I don’t care if they have my phone number or email address,” they’ll say.

But I reckon you should care, because this is about so much more than them knowing your email address.

Facebook and Instagram can sell or leverage lists of all of your information – phone numbers, email and postal addresses, age, birthday, marital status, income data, spending habits, browsing behavior, everything – to advertisers.

In practice, they will let an advertiser upload a list of phone numbers or email addresses it has on file, and Facebook will then put an ad in front of accounts associated with that contact information. Say you’ve bought a top from Brand A in the past, and it has your email address. You can now expect custom ads from that Brand. Facebook calls this a “custom audience.”

Think you can get around it with a dummy email account – the one you use with advertisers or mailings list to avoid clogging your regular inbox? Well, the data profile they have compiled on you likely includes your dummy email, along with your physical work address, how frequently you eat out, how much you spend on groceries, the date you last updated your car…

Even if you don’t have social media, you still have a rich and robust profile, thanks to other people sharing your data. It’s called shadow profiling.

If this is how far we’ve come in the last decade, imagine where we’ll be in 10 years from now?

We say “we don’t care”. The truth is, we don’t care enough.