As a followup to our article on What Does Facebook Know About You?, we’ve written this article for our readers who want to understand not just what information Facebook knows, but how it collects that information and what purpose it knows that information for.
By the end of this article, you should have a good idea of how Facebook knows so much about you, and what they use that information for.
We’re going to start with why Facebook collects information and knows so much about its users.
If you don’t really care about why Facebook knows so much about you, go ahead and click here to skip down to How Facebook Knows So Much About You.
Why Facebook Collects Your Information
Facebook started out as just a social networking platform, but it has evolved to something much bigger today. Facebook collects a lot of user information for two main reasons:
Facebook Collects Your Information To Show Ads Effectively
Facebook has over 2.6 billion active users as of the first quarter of 2020, and makes a lot of money by allowing businesses, non-profits, and just about anyone to show ads to Facebook users as they scroll through memes, politically-charged opinions, and new relationship announcements.
To understand the scale of how big Facebook advertising is, there are more than 7 million active advertisers on Facebook. Each of these advertisers spends about $1.72 on average for someone to click on their ads. In fact, advertisers pay Facebook so much to show ads to Facebook’s users, that Facebook is worth over 600 billion dollars today, and most of their revenue comes from advertising.
When users scroll through Facebook or Instagram, users see ads extremely often, and one user can see hundreds of ads in one day on Facebook. Advertisers choose to advertise on Facebook over other platforms because advertisers have more targeting options with Facebook.
Here’s an example to show why advertising with Facebook is so popular with advertisers:
Suppose a new women’s clothing store can pay $10,000 to put up an ad on a billboard alongside a busy highway. They estimate that about 60% of people who see the billboard are women who may be interested in visiting the store or men will go to purchase the clothes as gifts.
The store essentially paid $4,000 to show their ads to people who simply aren’t the right audience for the store, and only $6,000 of the total cost was to show the ad to people who are the right audience. Almost half of their money was wasted!
Now if the store was to run the ad on Facebook or Instagram instead of a billboard, the store can choose to only show the ad to women, and Facebook will only show the ad to women. No wasted money! Of course, this example is overly simplistic, but it gets the message across –
Facebook lets advertisers more easily reach an interested audience.
That is the appeal of advertising on Facebook and why there are over 7 million advertisers on Facebook.
Facebook gives advertisers thousands of options to help them show ads to the right people, and if you’re interested in what those things are, go read our article, How Does Facebook Know What Ads To Show You?
Facebook Collects Your Information To Improve User Experience
Because Facebook gets paid based on how many ads people see as they scroll, Facebook wants to get its users to spend more time on Facebook so they can see more ads.
To get you to spend more time on Facebook, it needs to get you to check Facebook more often and stay longer each time (Also don’t forget that this includes Instagram!).
Facebook has gotten so good at making Facebook appealing and getting users to come back more and more, that Facebook Addiction is a real problem for many people.
Facebook collects information on your demographics, interests, and how you interact with Facebook’s different features. All of this helps Facebook know not only how to change the platform to make it easier to use and stay longer, but also how to make every post, video, ad, article link, and ad you see on Facebook more enticing and interesting to you specifically, keeping you on the platform longer.
How Facebook Knows So Much About You
Now to the juicy part – how Facebook knows so much about you.
Again, if you haven’t read our article talking about what Facebook knows about you, you should read it so you can have a good idea of what information is actually being collected through these methods.
Here are the ways that Facebook learns about you:
- You provide information
- Others provide information about you
- Facebook collects information from your or others’ actions
- Facebook collects information from your devices
- Information from partners
Information You Provide To Facebook
While you set up and customize your personal Facebook profile, you input a lot of your personal information, but each time you create content on a platform that Facebook owns, that information is directly linked to your profile and is stored. This includes every post, comment, picture, message, or any other content that you are creating within Facebook.
This information doesn’t just include the content itself, but also some information about the content, like when you posted it or the location of a photo you uploaded.
Information Provided To Facebook By Others
Each time someone adds you as a friend, tags you in a picture, or sends you a message, all of that information is connected to you, although you didn’t create that content – someone else did.
This category is essentially the same as the information you provided to Facebook, but because Facebook is a social platform, the information you provide sometimes relates to others, just like the information others create can sometimes relate to you.
Information Collected From Your Or Others’ Actions
Facebook isn’t just an address book where you put information in, then leave it forever. If it was just that, then Facebook would only know the first two categories of information provided above.
Facebook is an interactive platform, meaning that people are doing things on Facebook. Some of those actions give Facebook more information about you.
Each time you like a post, Facebook tracks it. Each time you comment, Facebook tracks it. Each time you click on an ad, Facebook remembers. Each video you watch, and how long you watch it, all tracked by Facebook.
Here’s a paragraph from Facebook’s data policy about the information you provide as you use Facebook’s products:
“We collect information about how you use our Products, such as the types of content you view or engage with; the features you use; the actions you take; the people or accounts you interact with; and the time, frequency and duration of your activities.”
All of these things add up and Facebook starts to learn things about you from them. It knows what time you log in, how long you were logged in, and everything you did on Facebook, Instagram, Facebook Messenger, and WhatsApp.
An example of this is if you like one specific friend’s posts enough, Facebook knows that you interact with this friend more than others, and will start to show you their posts more than other people’s posts. If you’ve noticed that you see lots of posts from a few of your friends, but not others, it may not be that those friends just post more, but that Facebook shows you their posts more than others.
The same goes for news, websites, videos, and ads. Your actions on Facebook are collected and Facebook changes how you experience Facebook according to those actions.
All to keep you happy and using their products more and more.
Information Collected From Your Device
Facebook collects information about the computers, phones, TVs, and other devices that you use that integrate with Facebook’s products.
- Type of device you use
- Device operating system
- Device software version
- Your battery level
- Your signal strength
- How much storage you have
- What plugins you’re using
- Your browser
- If Facebook is in the foreground or background of your device
- Mouse movements
- Identifiers, device IDs from games or accounts you use
- Bluetooth signals
- Nearby Wi-Fi access points, beacons, and cell towers
- “information you allow us to receive through device settings you turn on, such as access to your GPS location, camera or photos.”
- Your mobile provider
- Time zone
- Phone number
- IP address
- Internet speed
Information From Partners
Facebook collects information about you from its partners, including advertisers, app developers, and publishers.
Have you ever read a blog post and seen a Facebook “Like” button on the site? Yup, if you like that, it’s connected to your Facebook account.
Another big way that Facebook collects information from partners is through the Facebook Pixel, which collects information about what websites you visit, purchases you make, and other actions you take off of Facebook. This information is then sent to Facebook and can sometimes be connected to your personal Facebook profile, depending on your privacy settings and how you browse those sites.
We’ve covered what Facebook does with your information and the different ways that Facebook collects information about you. What you do about it is up to you, but you may be interested in reading these other articles by Internet Understood,