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How to find out everything Facebook knows about you

How to find out everything Facebook knows about you

Facebook ad controls


If you use Facebook, then you know the deal.

Facebook is free to use and fun, and sometimes necessary if you belong to groups that use it to communicate with their members.

But in exchange for that service, you have allowed it to track your activity so that advertisers can find you, hopefully to show you stuff you'll want to buy.

In other words: you can't opt out of ads on Facebook without opting out of Facebook itself.

But there's still a lot you can do to control the ads you see.

And there's also stuff you can do to stop Facebook from watching what you do on the rest of the internet in service of its advertisers.

Besides all the usual arguments about privacy, there is another good reason to figure out what Facebook knows about you and participate in that. It shows you ads based on what it thinks you like. The better it does this, the more likely you are going to see ads on things that truly interest you.

Facebook has three ways to figure you out.

1. What you tell it directly (name, age, marital status, parental status, where you live, work, went to school, etc.).

2. What you do while you are on Facebook, including stuff you've "liked," groups you joined, photos and links you've shared, things you click on.

3. What you do on the rest of the internet outside of Facebook such as websites you visit. Many sites track this information via cookies (and similar technologies) and Facebook reads those cookies and uses that information to serve up ads both on its site and on other websites, it says.

It's easy to see the things you've directly shared with Facebook (and your friends) on your Timeline profile page. But to see a fully tally of what Facebook thinks you like, you need to find a tool called Ad Preferences.

This tool is not easy to find. (Facebook has published a slideshow that explains how.)

Locate it by using the controls Facebook has embedded into the ads themselves.

Head to your Facebook news feed.

Hover your mouse over any ad you see in the right-hand column and look for the little "x" to appear in the corner of the add. Click on it.

Facebook ad preferences1

Facebook screen capture

Alternatively, look for an ad in your news stream, and look for a little arrow. Click on it.

Facebook Ad control arrow


Then look for "Why am I seeing this?" Click on it.

Facebook ad controls


That's where you'll find the link to the Ad Preferences page. From here you can tell Facebook to stop showing you ads from a particular advertiser.

That doesn't mean that Facebook will stop showing you ads, or limit them. In fact, Facebook says, "This won't change how many ads you see. but, because we'll know more about what you like, they should be more relevant."

Click on Manage Your Ad Preferences.

Facebook ad controls


It will bring you up a generic list. Under each entry are the specific categories and things you've liked. These influence the ads you see.

Facebook ad preferences4

Facebook screen capture

For instance, I clicked on "Lifestyle and culture."

I saw a listing called "newlywed" and clicked on it. For some reason Facebook thinks I've been married for less than a year, based on what I "do on Facebook."

My husband and I have been married for many years, but it's nice that Facebook thinks we're living the life of newlyweds. I left that.

Facebook preferences newlywed


On the other hand, a previous time I did this, I clicked on "Business and Industry."

Facebook thought I was interested in elevators. Facebook told me, "You have this preference because you liked a Page related to Elevator." Did I? I couldn't recall. I deleted that.

Facebook ad preferences5

Facebook warns that even after you change your preferences, "you might still see ads that seem related to things you removed. For example, you might see an ad if it's broadly targeted to everyone in your town or city."

You can make Facebook stop tracking you on the internet

Facebook does watch what you do outside of Facebook to show you ads.

"For example, if you visit travel websites, you might then see ads on Facebook for hotel deals. We call this online interest-based advertising," it explains.

You can tell it to stop showing you ads based on you do on the internet. Click on the lock icon in the blue bar. Then click on "Ads" in the left column, then choose "Off."

Facebook ad settings


This will not stop Facebook from showing you just as many ads, but it won't be using your web activity for them.

You can also opt out of letting other companies track your web activity for ads through the Digital Advertising Alliance in the USA, Digital Advertising Alliance of Canada in Canada or the European Digital Advertising Alliance in Europe.

Visit the DAA sites in each browser you use and opt out.


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