Is Facebook Spying On Your Conversations To Sell You Stuff?

Facebook: the new NSA?

If you’re on Facebook, you’ve probably encountered this scenario at least once. You and a friend are hanging out and they tell you about a new product or service they just discovered. Then the next day, as if it was fate, you see an ad for that exact product/service on your Facebook feed. So, is Facebook spying on you? Not exactly. Here are a few reasons why you shouldn’t buy into the conspiracy.

Interest in the phrase "Facebook spying" is currently at an all-time high.

Interest in the phrase “Facebook spying” is currently at an all-time high. (Source: Google Trends)

There are currently more than 2 billion monthly users on Facebook.

For the platform to listen to that many people and understand the context of what they’re talking about would be borderline impossible by today’s standards. Antonio Garcia Martinez, former Facebook ad-targeting manager, told the Wall Street Journal that spying on 2 billion people in that manner “would strain even the resources of the NSA.” It’s easy to think Facebook is listening to your conversations, but put into context that they’d have to be listening to millions (if not billions) of other conversations as well. That’s a lot of data to sort through.

You leave a trail of advertising breadcrumbs for Facebook every day without even realizing it.

The information you’ve added to your Facebook profile makes it simple to match your actions offline with your social media account. Have you ever entered your phone number at a grocery store in order to receive loyalty points for your purchase? That makes it easy for advertisers to target you later down the road since your phone number is likely linked up to your Facebook account. For example, say you go to the store and buy puppy food and a leash. Facebook advertisers can potentially link up that purchase with your account if you use your phone number at checkout. This might result in you being added to a Facebook advertising audience of new dog owners (or something similar). You’ll be served ads for dog beds and chew toys before you know it, all without Facebook spying or listening to your conversations.

A broken clock is right twice a day.

For the few eerily relevant Facebook ads you’ve been served, you’ve brushed past thousands of ads that didn’t speak to you at all. My newsfeed is currently saturated with ads for meal delivery services. I’m not interested in those services and haven’t been researching them, but I fall into the demographic of someone who might be. These companies are likely targeting millennials living in metropolitan areas. That audience could easily contain several million people. The chances of a few of those individuals recently talking to a friend about meal delivery is very high, if not guaranteed. For those lucky few, it may seem like they were the victim of some classic Facebook spying. For me, the ads are just another thing to scroll past.

In conclusion:

Is Facebook spying on you? In a literal sense, no. Seeing a hyper-relevant ad is simply the result of crazy powerful algorithms, data collection, and a little bit of luck. But if you’re still worried about Facebook spying on you through your phone’s microphone, here’s an article on how to disable Facebook’s access to your microphone all-together. No one would blame you.

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