Yes, Facebook is stalking you

The first time my mom experienced “remarketing”, she almost had a heart attack.

She had been on a website a few hours before, looking at a specific product she wanted to buy for someone’s birthday, and then she went on to Facebook and that exact same product was sitting in an advert on her screen.

There was genuine fear in her eyes as she turned to ask me what was happening. At the time I was a bit sketchy on the details, but I explained to her that there wasn’t really a Big Brother watching her. At least not in the sense of a dystopian superpower waiting to query her choice of gifts.

But how does it actually work?

Tracking your movements

Facebook is one of many services in this day and age that give users a piece of code they can put on their own sites to report what people are doing there. This code is called a “pixel” or a “web bug”.  Whenever a user lands on that site, the pixel downloads information from a server (in this case Facebook). When it downloads that information, it’s also giving a bit of information to the server. Usually that information is something as simple as “Hi, I am downloading this info on this page”. Though of course, this all happens in computer language.

So there isn’t a Big Brother sitting actually watching what you’re doing. This is a great explanation of the more technical aspects.

As an advertiser

Facebook gives you the code to put on your site. Then you can “create an audience” of all the people who have visited a particular page and market to them. If you’re interested in doing this yourself, Jon Loomer has a nice step-by-step.

You can also create a Facebook audience made up of existing clients by uploading a list of their email addresses.

Perhaps the best way to understand how this works in practise is reading this amusing story of how someone played an epic prank on his roommate by creating an audience of one and marketing to it.

No conspiracy 

Remarketing is only one method of narrowing down who you target through Facebook advertising. If you want to see why you’re being show specific ads, a fun exercise is to go to the drop down arrow on the top right of a post (in News Feed) or the x (on a side-bar ad) and click on “why am I seeing this ad?” Here are some examples of ads that appeared on my Facebook feed today:

 

Ad targeted thanks to a remarketing pixel

whyad3

whyad3b

Ad targeted by interest

whyad4

whyad4b

 

Ad targeted by client list

whyad6bwhyad6

 

Opt-out

If you’re still not comfortable with this whole thing, going to “why am I seeing this ad?” also lets you opt-out of seeing ads based on websites and apps. This is also an easy way of setting your ad preferences so you’re more likely to be shown stuff you’re actually interested in buying.

Comment if you have any questions ^_^ .

 

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