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Facebook: Commodifying People’s Personalities

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In April 2018, Wired reported on the targeted advertisement practices used by Facebook, the world’s biggest social networking site. Facebook uses demographic data to allow advertisers to target specific populations. Historically, cigarettes companies were known to target low-income communities, but today Facebook does so with even greater accuracy and on a much larger scale. Kane Jamison, the founder of Content Harmony, a marketing agency that frequently uses Facebook to advertise, says, “Facebook is the same thing, but there’s 60,000 channels and weird ways to combine them… The level of infringement of privacy here is unprecedented.”

Although Facebook insists that users can control the types of ads that they see, Facebook has not fully disclosed how much data it collects about its users.

A study published in 2017 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences revealed that marketers effectively make assumptions about your personality from the pages you like and target you with “personality-based ads.”

Wired’s report concluded, “For the average user, Facebook’s advertising system is still a black box. By under-explaining its complexities, Facebook likely also only makes the confusion worse.”

Source: Lousie Matsakis, “Facebook’s Targeted Ads Are More Complex Than It Lets On,” Wired, April 25, 2018, www.wired.com/story/facebooks-targeted-ads-are-more-complex-than-it-lets-on/.

Student Researcher: Lakhvir Singh (College of Marin)

Faculty Evaluator: Susan Rahman (College of Marin)

Daniel Christof

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