What Facebook knows about you

Thomas Macaulay
Thomas Macaulay

Thomas Macaulay

Tom is online editor. He studied English Literature and History at Sussex University before gaining a Masters in Newspaper Journalism from City University. He's particularly interested in the public sector and the ethical implications of emerging technologies.

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If the advertisements on your Facebook newsfeed appear remarkably relevant, it’s because the social network giant knows you well. Facebook amassed an estimated $26.9 billion in ad revenue in 2016 alone by mining its vast troves of data on its 1.86 billion users to sell targeted information to advertisers they use to offer products and services based on your personal tastes.

There are also more sinister ways companies use your information. Researcher Michal Kosinski devised a model that analysed a user's Facebook "likes" to predict information such as ethnicity, sexual orientation, and political beliefs to both create and locate personal psychological profiles.  

A similar strategy of big data analysis was rumoured to have helped Donald Trump reach the White House, by sending targeted campaign ads that appealed to individual needs and desires, as tech publication Motherboard recently revealed.

Wikileaks founder Julian Assange called Facebook "the most appalling spying machine that has ever been invented," in an interview with Russian news site RT.

"Here we have the world's most comprehensive database about people, their relationships, their names, their addresses, their locations and the communications with each other, their relatives, all sitting within the United States, all accessible to U.S. intelligence," claimed Assange.

"Every time you go to a party and take a picture and post that picture to Facebook, you’re being a rat," Assange added at a book launch in 2014.

But even his organisation can’t resist joining the mischief. Wikileaks has its own Facebook page, from which it reveals the secrets of the rulers of the world.

What Facebook does with your data remains a subject of debate, but the data that it has is disturbingly detailed.

Read next: What Google knows about you – and how to make it forget

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