Sort of relieved Facebook isn’t Target-creepy

The topic of Facebook privacy hardly merits 1,000 words, yet I somehow managed to supply nearly that number in the preceding post, and intend to add a few hundred more here.

My apologies in advance.

While the anecdotes from yesterday did a reasonable job demonstrating that Facebook has some idea of what you’re up to, Facebook’s problem isn’t gathering the data; it’s consistently turning what data it gathers into useful, targeted advertisements. Indeed, though Facebook usage accounts for 13% of all time spent on the internet, and Google only 11%, the latter company’s revenue dwarfs that of Facebook by more than an order of magnitude: $36 billion to 3.1.

A lot of this revenue disparity can be traced to the fact that Facebook is not so good with advertising. But you probably already knew that: Take a look at the ads that show up on your profile. Have you ever taken a look at the ads that show up on your profile? I mean, really looked at them? [Surgeon General’s warning: Really looking at Facebook ads may induce desire to stare at Venus’ transit of Sol.]

Somehow, that last paragraph inspired me to take a look for myself. It was like shooting fish in a barrel.

More specifically, ‘All You Can Eat Snow Crab’. For me, ‘All you can eat crab’ is, quite literally, none. While I thank you, gentile friend, for your generous offer of that… deliciously unkosher snack. I sadly have to decline… [-Mordechai Jefferson Carver. Granted, it’s tough to blame Facebook for that one – after all, as described in the annals of this very blog, my religion is hardly set to ‘Kosher’.]

So let’s see how Facebook does when it has actually has accurate information. Take location: My profile mentions two specific locations: Seattle and Philadelphia. Furthermore, Facebook knows whenever I log in from a new location, which means it knows where I am pretty much every time I log in. Still, it somehow couldn’t decide whether to show me ads for Boston or New York [you’re probably going to have to click].

But where Facebook is bad at advertising, it is good for peace of mind.

Earlier this year, Target was (ahem) targeted by a report in the New York Times that claimed the company can predict its customers’ pregnancies before the customers themselves. Presumably impressed, Facebook decided to give that trick a crack:

God, I hope not.

Fortunately, since this is Facebook, I have nothing to worry about.


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