Why Am I seeing this on Facebook? It's still unclear.

Why Am I seeing this on Facebook? It's still unclear.

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Facebook just announced that they're taking steps to give you more information about why you see certain ads. Transparency into Facebook's content and ad targeting is necessary and these are welcome baby steps in a better direction.

However, these are still baby steps: at the end of the day, Facebook and other platforms are still unwilling to provide the level of transaprency that's needed to fully address concerns about their impact on individuals and democratic functions. What Facebook's steps in this instance end up demonstating is just how convoluted and confusing the company's ad targeting actually is.

Endless companies collect, upload, and flush data about you through Facebook's advertising machine, which profiles and targets you. To date there is no satifactory way to escape it - even if you don't have a Facebook account.

At the end of the day Facebook's business model necessitates the collection and exploitation of your data in ways that are difficult to understand in order to profile and target you with advertisements. Transparency is good yes, but the elephant in the room is that Facebook's business model is on shaky ground.


Here's what Facebook just announced:

  • Facebook allows advertisers to upload names, phone numbers, and email addresses to target ads or create lookalike audiences. Facebook has now said that the "Why am I seeing this ad?” will provide information about if an advertiser uploaded information to target you or if the advertiser worked with a "marketing partner" to create an ad.
  • You'll be able to see some more information about why you see a piece of content. Facebook says this might be because your friend or a page you follow posted something.
  • You'll be able to see information about how content was prioritised. Facebook says that content from people, pages, and groups you follow may appear on your newsfeed. 
  • You'll be given shortcuts to controls. Facebook gives the exampe of Unfollow, News Feed Preferences, and some others.


Here's what Facebook didn't mention:

  • Where in the world or when this will apply
  • How data about you got into Facebook's hands in the first place 
  • How Facebook uses this data to infer information about you and profile you, and how exactly an advertiser is then able to reach you
  • Who else benefits from this data and targeting
  • How to escape or truly limit Facebook's targeting

To fully address concerns about targeted advertising, far more information should be made easily available to users. For example, Facebook should address the unknowns and identify edge-cases: what does Facebook PROHIBIT in targeting a political ad? How does Facebook identify political issues, and how are political issue ads targeted? Are users being targeted based on inferred data, including their political leaning or that of their friends?

To fully address these issues, PI joined with Mozilla and other civil society organisations to call on Facebook to improve its practices. Mozilla together with researchers have called on Facebook to further open up its advertising API to facilitate tracking of political disinformation over time.

Further, Facebook should treat the EU's data protection regulation, the GDPR, as a floor and not a ceiling of privacy protections. With full GDPR compliance, it is not all clear that the targeting of many of these political ads would be allowed. While increased transparency is welcome, it cannot stop there.