A study by the Pew Research Center suggests most Facebook users are still in the dark about how the company tracks and profiles them for ad-targeting purposes.
Pew found three-quarters (74%) of Facebook users did not know the social networking behemoth maintains a list of their interests and traits to target them with ads, only discovering this when researchers directed them to view their Facebook ad preferences page.
A majority (51%) of Facebook users also told Pew they were uncomfortable with Facebook compiling the information.
While more than a quarter (27%) said the ad preference listing Facebook had generated did not very or at all accurately represent them.
The researchers also found that 88% of polled users had some material generated for them on the ad preferences page. Pew’s findings come from a survey of a nationally representative sample of 963 U.S. Facebook users ages 18 and older which was conducted between September 4 to October 1, 2018, using GfK’s KnowledgePanel.
In a senate hearing last year Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg claimed users have “complete control” over both information they actively choose to upload to Facebook and data about them the company collects in order to target ads.
But the key question remains how Facebook users can be in complete control when most of them they don’t know what the company is doing. This is something U.S. policymakers should have front of mind as they work on drafting a comprehensive federal privacy law.
Pew’s findings suggest Facebook’s greatest ‘defence’ against users exercising what little control it affords them over information its algorithms links to their identity is a lack of awareness about how the Facebook adtech business functions.
After all the company markets the platform as a social communications service for staying in touch with people you know, not a mass surveillance people-profiling ad-delivery machine. So unless you’re deep in the weeds of the adtech industry there’s little chance for the average Facebook user to understand what Mark Zuckerberg has described as “all the nuances of how these services work”.