It’s happened to all of us. One minute you’re talking to a friend about needing a new pair of runners and the next you’re getting a Nike ad on your Facebook News Feed. You think to yourself “Facebook was listening!”
In 2016 Facebook issued a statement with the headline ‘Facebook Does Not Use Your Phone’s Microphone for Ads or News Feed Stories.’ In this, the tech giant denies the endless claims made by users, and states that they “show ads based on people’s interests and other profile information.”
The harsh reality is that Facebook doesn’t need to listen to your conversations to generate hyper targeted content. These “interests” and “information” that Facebook draws from to inform its algorithms derive from the choices and interactions you make both online and offline. From searches on other platforms, to the people you spend time with, the places you go to, and the purchases you make, Facebook crunches mass volumes of your personal data to serve you ads as specific to you as possible.
This all raises the question of where we draw the line between targeted content that can benefit both the consumer and company, and plain breaches of privacy. How much of our information do these companies have, and how much do we actually know about?