Hi Lifehacker, I was on Facebook last week and saw a lot of ads for T-shirts for Richmond's AFL team on sale at Target. I've never liked either Target or Richmond on Facebook (though I am a Richmond supporter). How did Facebook know that would be of interest to me? Thanks, Tiger Landed
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Facebook's key pitch to advertisers is that it can help direct ads to people who are interested in a given area. Many Facebook users are aware that "liking" something can have an impact on the advertisements they see, and that their own names can show up as "liking" a company if it does advertise on there: ("John Smith and Jenny Jones like this").
However, direct "likes" aren't the only way that Facebook decides who might be a "relevant" audience for an advertiser. It can also examine every status update you've posted and every picture you've uploaded. So if you've ever mentioned Richmond in a post and Target starts running a campaign based on AFL teams, chances are you'll see an ad customised to that team. If you had mentioned Collingwood, the team would be different. If your location is specified as Sydney, then the odds are good you'd have been bombarded with AFL T-shirt offers instead.
This process is far from perfect — I still see a lot of ads for irrelevant rubbish on my Facebook page, and it's a rare day indeed when I click on one. But this process of "personalising" advertising — and selling access to you — is how Facebook makes its money. When it does it well, you see ads you actually find interesting. When it does it badly, you hear about one weird trick to lose weight. That's life online.
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