Skip to main content

Most Americans Still Don't Know Facebook Tracks Them

As we've steadily learned over the past year, Facebook collects a huge amount of data about you. It turns out that most American Facebook users may still not be aware of that.

Credit: Ink Drop / Shutterstock

(Image credit: Ink Drop / Shutterstock)

According to the results of a newly completed survey by the Pew Research Center, 74 percent of Facebook users did not know that Facebook maintains a list of their interests and traits. 

Facebook curates a list of your interests and racial and political "affinities" based on your activity on the service -- likes, shares, posts, comments, etc. It also gathers information, such as your browsing history and mobile-app usage, from some external sites and sources, which users can't always opt out of. You can view the data that Facebook collects about you on your personalized "ad preferences" page

Facebook presents these interests and categories to advertisers, who then target Facebook users with tailored ads on Facebook and other websites. (Facebook insists that it doesn't actually sell your data.)

MORE: Facebook's Photo Bug: How to See If You Were Exposed

Upon learning of the ad-preferences page, 51 percent of survey respondents said they were not comfortable with Facebook collecting such information about them, with 15 percent saying "Not at all comfortable," and 36 percent indicating "Not very comfortable."

It's not unreasonable that users wouldn't know about the ad-preferences page. It's not easy to find the page without a direct link; you need to click the X in the top-right corner of an ad and select "Why am I seeing this?" to pull up the ad-preferences page.

Still, this research highlights just how far Facebook's reach is. While the media works itself into a tizzy over each new Facebook privacy scandal, the general public is still largely unaware of just how much information Facebook collects.

Whether or not the new awareness causes users to delete their accounts, Facebook is certainly facing outrage as the rate of new revelations hardly slows down.

In December, the attorney general of Washington D.C. filed a lawsuit against Facebook over the Cambridge Analytica data-misuse scandal. In the same month, we learned that the social network allowed Netflix and Spotify to access your private messages, and that a bug in Facebook's photo API inadvertently exposed 6.8 million users' private photos to unauthorized third-party apps. 

Here's hoping that over time, more people become aware of Facebook's misdeeds.  

Monica Chin is a writer at The Verge, covering computers. Previously, she was a staff writer for Tom's Guide, covering artificial intelligence and the internet of things. You can usually find her at poetry slams, attempting to exercise, or yelling at people on Twitter.

  • Dark Lord of Tech
    You mean DARPA , Facebook was just a new title given to it.
    Facebook is and will always be for mining personal information of the population.