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Facebook’s Ad Targeting Gets Help from Thousands of Other Companies

Facebook collects data on individual users from thousands of companies, and a new Consumer Reports study (PDF) attempted to quantify it.


Researchers discovered that, on average, Facebook received data from 2,230 different companies for every 709 volunteers. One extreme case revealed that “nearly 48,000 different companies were found in the data of a single volunteer.” Facebook data archives revealed that 186,892 companies had provided information on all the study participants.


Volunteers recruited with the help of The Markup downloaded their personal information from Facebook and shared it with the researchers. Companies that use Meta’s advertising platform upload their customers’ personal information and purchasing habits, which Meta then uses to serve targeted ads to people with similar profiles. 


Ninety-six percent of the study participants’ archives contained information shared by a data broker named LiveRamp, but not all data brokers. Large retailers also participated, while other smaller businesses were “surprisingly well represented,” such as a car dealership in a 24,665-person town in Texas.


We’ve all heard that our smartphones listen to us, which must be how they decide which ads to show us. The truth is that companies aren’t just waiting for us to talk about jeans; they already know what we want, what size we wear, which brands we prefer, and when we usually start buying them.

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