Americans don’t know much about Facebook and how its algorithm works, according to a survey from Pew Research Center conducted on 963 US Facebook users. The new study found that 74 percent of Facebook users in the US did not know that Facebook collects their traits and interests to help advertisers target ads. Users were also unaware that they could access this information in account settings.
Facebook doesn’t do this for free but for the hefty profit that comes from playing with big data, a common practice in the industry. Companies collect tons of online data about user behavior. They use it to improve their business models, to increase revenue, improve user experience through personalized content, as well as to sell to third parties. Even companies that offer their services for free such as social networks.
Asked to give their opinion on how Facebook profiles them, many respondents disagreed with the algorithm’s conclusions. The numbers show that almost half (51%) are “not comfortable” with the method used to create personalized lists and 27 percent say they don’t fit the descriptions because they are inaccurate. However, 59 percent do identity with Facebook’s categorization and interest list.
Facebook was also interested in collecting data about political affiliations, propaganda and racial and ethnic “affinities,” with a separate “multicultural affinity” category. A quarter of users showed up in this category, meaning their behavior shows an affinity for multiple racial and ethnic groups.
“37% of Facebook users are both assigned a political affinity and say that affinity describes them well, while 14% are both assigned a category and say it does not represent them accurately,” says the report.
“We want people to understand how our ad settings and controls work,” reads Facebook’s statement to The Verge. “That means better ads for people. While we and the rest of the online ad industry need to do more to educate people on how interest-based advertising works and how we protect people’s information, we welcome conversations about transparency and control.”