The next time you see Facebook ads for, say, erectile dysfunction pills or egg freezing, you can check to see why you were targeted by those brands and where the companies got your data.
On Thursday, Facebook announced it is updating its Ad Preferences and “Why am I seeing this ad?” tools, which were first introduced four years ago. The changes will help users find more information about why they are seeing the ads that the platform serves up to them. It’s the company’s latest effort to provide some transparency after the Cambridge Analytica data-harvesting scandal last year revealed to the public just how reckless Facebook has been with users’ private data.
To see why a brand wants you to see an ad, click the ellipses icon in the top-right of an ad, then click “Why am I seeing this ad?” to learn how you fit the profile the company is targeting.
As Facebook points out in its blog post about the new features, in the past this tool only showed one or two reasons that a user was targeted—for instance, the user fits the demographic and has visited a relevant website. But Facebook claims that now users can see more details, like the specific site they visited or Facebook page they liked. The tool will also guide users to a page where they can manage their ad preferences.
But perhaps a more illuminating new feature is in the Ad Preferences tool, where users can now see which third-party data brokers shared lists with their personal information on it.
To check this, users can click “Advertisers and Businesses” on the Ad Preferences page, then see a list of “businesses who have uploaded and shared a list with your info” within the last three months, and “advertisers who uploaded a list with your info and advertised to it” within the past week.
I checked this provided information in my account and recognized only a few of the many third-party data brokers that had shared my information. Many of them were marketing firms. One company I could find no trace of in a cursory Google search, which was kind of creepy.
While these features give users a little more control and awareness of how their data is being shared, it probably won’t change the user experience all that much. But checking the information is a good reminder of why you might want to delete your Facebook account.