What Facebook Knows About You and the Algorithms That Find It

Trevor English

Facebook knows a lot more about you than you might think. Through cutting edge algorithms and endless data, they can tell pretty much everything about you without ever having met you.

What Facebook Knows About You and the Algorithms That Find It

[Image Source: Pixabay]

Facebook is the leading social network across the world and it has 1.8 billion monthly active users, 1.2 billion of which get on daily. A place where this many people interact has never been seen before in human history. The nature of what Facebook is gives the company access to data on a grander scale than ever seen before.

People-based targeting vs. Cookies

Websites across the internet generally use cookie-based targeting. In other words, websites will track you via a cookie that was planted in your browser. This is part of how you can get ads served to you on other websites after you have looked for products on Amazon. There is a flaw in this sort of tracking however – it tracks the device, not the user. This means that if you use a public computer or even just switch devices after you are off work, the cookies can't really track you. When it comes to marketing, this often means that a company receives data suggesting that more people are looking at their website than in actuality since cookies don't account for cross-device use.

Here is where Facebook is changing the game. It employs what it calls people-based targeting. This means that the way Facebook tracks you is based on your profile and who you are, not just cookies. All of your profile data on Facebook along with how you interact with others on Facebook is tracked and categorized. It then generates a virtual "profile" of you as a person to determine your interests, sexual preference, etc. Their data is so complex that through partnering with 3rd party agencies, they can determine your income level, how likely you are to purchase a house in the next few months, whether you are on your first marriage or maybe your third and so on.

Revealing this isn't meant to scare you, although I assume many of you are scared – and others probably already realized Facebook knew this about you.

What Facebook Knows About You and the Algorithms That Find It

[Image Source: Pixabay]

Since Facebook develops these profiles of you as a person, it can track you cross device. So when you use your phone before bed, it still sees you as "Sally" compared to when you were browsing products on your laptop earlier. The reason Facebook collects this data isn't for malicious intent, but this data is essentially the cash cow of the social media.

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How does people-based targeting work?

For me, I am a Facebook marketer. I am an individual who constantly buys data from Facebook to direct ads to your homepage. Millions of people across the world use the same technology whether it be on a corporate level or on a small business level.

Now, I can't target you as "Sally" directly, but I can target you by demographics and traits. If I was running an ad campaign about a new high-end protein powder my targeting may look something like this:

Target Group: Men and Women with an income of 75 thousand dollars or more with interests in exercise, healthy living, protein powder, and working out as well as people who are fans of GMC or other supplement stores.

Say I was targeting you with an app that only ran on android devices. I can refine the targeting by saying I only want to serve this ad to android users with an OS newer than "X".

I'm only breaking the surface to how specific myself as a marketer can get with the data that Facebook provides. There are endless complexities and features available to me to make sure I target my ads to the right people who will see them and engage with them.

Facebook's algorithms that collect this data are forever changing. Essentially, if you are logged into Facebook on a device, they can track your activity to some extent. Through the use of Pixels installed by advertisers, marketers can target you with ads on Facebook if you have viewed content on their website.


The most freaky things that can happen with these targeting capabilities are when they transcend into the real world, purely out of coincidence. For example, I once had a conversation with a friend about a new coffee pouch he had just got. When I got home that evening and looked on Facebook, there was an ad on my homepage for that exact product. HOW DID THEY KNOW? What likely happened is my friend had just recently liked the company's facebook page. That company probably had an add running with targeting towards friends of people who like their page. And through pure coincidence, that ad showed up on my newsfeed, genuinely freaking me out.

A situation similar to this has probably happened to you too. Don't be afraid that your phone is listening to you, all of this is due to the data we provide on Facebook. Our whole lives are on there and Facebook knows about them.

For me, I've come to terms with this forfeiture of knowledge I allow to Facebook. You, on the other hand, may be a little more freaked out. It's the price we pay for living in the digital age, and as long as the data isn't used maliciously, it won't affect you in the slightest.

Have a question about something I didn't cover? Post it in the comments below and I can answer your question to give you some deeper insight.

About the Author: Trevor is a Facebook Blueprint Certified Planning and Buying Professional. When he isn't writing about the latest technology, he is utilizing the data Facebook provides to market ads to right to your home screen. 

SEE ALSO: Facebook Alters Newsfeed Algorithm – What You Need to Know

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