I wish Facebook knew more about me
The other day I was chatting with a friend and she mentioned how Facebook was listening into personal conversations via her phone. It was the only possible explanation, she said, for how it could know she was in the market for a new sofa. Her husband was the only person (other than me) she’d mentioned this to and although she hadn’t yet got around to looking for a sofa online, her Facebook feed was full of ads for upholstered seating. I’ve heard this conspiracy theory before, of course, we all have. If it’s not Facebook listening in, it’s Google. But it made me smile.
When I go into Facebook (or Instagram), which is several times every day, I see stories from my friends and family, interspersed with 'targeted' adverts for products and services that I have no interest in -- such as the advert I saw today for a train company whose trains I’ve never been on because they don’t run anywhere near where I live or travel to. Judging by all the food ads Facebook shows me, it thinks I’m a staunch (and very hungry) vegan. This couldn’t be further from the truth.
People worry that Facebook knows too much about them. Facebook knows less about me than the guy who served me a lovely rare steak in my local steakhouse last week.
The social network recommends total strangers as possible friends -- the hairdresser of someone I went to school with -- and suggests people and companies that I might be interested in following, all of which I couldn’t care less about. As an example, today Facebook thought I might like to follow Siobhan Fahey from Bananarama. But why? I’ve never owned a Bananarama record, never streamed a Bananarama song, I don’t know or follow anyone with a declared interest in Bananarama. I’ve heard Bananarama on the radio, but not since the 1980s.
I regularly ask Facebook to hide adverts, not because they are repetitive, of a sensitive topic, know too much, are too personal, or are already purchased, but simply because they are completely irrelevant, and still it doesn’t learn.
If I ask it to hide an advert for wood fuel -- because my house uses gas for heating -- another one from a different company selling the same thing pops up a few days later.
Facebook thinks I have an interest in fluffy blankets and blanket hoodies. I don’t. It thinks I want to cover my walls at home with massive photo murals. I definitely don’t. It thinks I’m the sort of person who craves a pricey box of essential oils and bath bombs. I’m not.
It’s not completely accurate to say the adverts I see never interest me. Facebook regularly delivers ads that pique my curiosity simply because I have no idea what they are for. I don’t click on them, or Google them, because then Facebook would serve me up even more of the same kind of irrelevance.
When I go into recent ad activity to see what’s what, it shows me things it says I clicked on, but which -- at best -- I merely hovered over. There are ads I did click on, but doing so clearly didn’t alter Facebook’s algorithm as the ad activity page is the only place those ads ever show up.
I know I can -- and occasionally do -- manage ad preferences and ad topics in 'Settings and privacy', but Facebook is really just giving me the option of seeing fewer ads of the type it hardly ever shows me in the first place.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t really want Facebook to know more about me (if I did I’d 'Like' everything of interest I ever saw on the web and complete all of the stupid quizzes some of my friends respond to), but a degree of awareness that I’m not a vegan teen girl with an unkempt beard in need of taming who spends her days snuggled up in a blanket in front of a roaring log fire listening to 80s pop music would be nice.