Beware: Facebook collects data about your offline life through data brokers

Facebook needs no introduction; it is a social networking platform that helps you connect with your family, friends, colleagues and loved ones, as well as lets you find new acquaintances and even life partner. It is a very useful platform but sadly, Facebook is also involved in activities, which many users would consider an invasion of privacy, only to improvise on its marketing strategies and to display ads. It is a known fact that Facebook uses your profile information to display relevant ads but not many are aware of the fact that it also gathers a lot of information from offline data brokers for this purpose.

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Collecting information about users is nothing new and presumably, users have gotten used to this aspect of using Facebook. However, using information that you have entered about yourself, the articles or posts that you check out and the pages you have ‘Liked,’ the videos you have watched etc., are not only collected by Facebook but also used to sell ads.

According to ProPublica’s research, this process isn’t very simple and Facebook apparently has moved a few notches higher in this aspect. The social network has contracts with various data brokers that offer information about users’ offline life. This exchange of information includes places that you like to dine in, how much money you make and the number of credit cards you have.

The data about your offline life is then used by Facebook to further polish its strategic placement of online ads. But the downside is that users are totally kept in the dark about this hijacking of offline life of users.

ProPublica identified this strategy of Facebook when it created a tool to encourage users to share whatever they found about this aspect of the social network. Since September, ProPublica managed to collect more than 52,000 categories of interest from “Breastfeeding in Public” to “Pretending to Text in Awkward Situations” and many such unorthodox categories.

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When the publication surveyed the advertising platform of Facebook to analyze which of the identified parameters would attract ad buyers for targeting an ad and around 600 categories were discovered that were seemingly provided by a third party. A majority of the identified categories were linked with the financial attributes of the users and none of them were included in the users’ crowdsourced list.

We know that advertising is an integral aspect of Facebook primarily because of the remarkably vast user base of the social network. Additionally, advertisers are also attracted towards Facebook because it allows marketers to narrowly determine the user’s subset based upon a variety of parameters such as shared interests, age, political leanings and the kind of mobile device being used.

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With this exceedingly valuable micro-targeting tactics, it is understandable that Facebook will try to gather offline data sets and then match it to Facebook users to further advance its advertising platform. What is disturbing about this research is that Facebook usually claims to be a transparent platform where users’ privacy comes first and people can use it without any apprehensions.

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Uzair Amir

I am an Electronic Engineer, an Android Game Developer and a Tech writer. I am into music, snooker and my life motto is 'Do my best, so that I can't blame myself for anything.'