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In our last post about the Facebook IPO we discussed how (what we would call) “Big Web” has to increase revenue, and the number one way that they are accomplishing this is via advertising on their site. Many like Facebook, or Google offer their own “Ad” management and focus directly on “knowing who a user us”. So our friend, Christian Saffici, asked via our Facebook fan page to take a look at the increased use of personal data to increase this revenue. So, Christian, here it is!

The first thing we needed to look at was “What they know” or how are they getting this infromation. Luckily the Wall Street Journal has a great blog about just this subject with a very interactive view into what some of the sites you might use, send to other people. In this article they “analyzed the tracking files installed on people’s computers by the 50 most popular U.S. websites, plus WSJ.com” and built an “exposure index” to help a generic, everyday Joe, help see what sites they visit and what other companies are finding out about them.

We took a screenshot of some of our favorite sites to give you an idea of exactly what this index wouuld look like.

As you can see they split this into “First Party” and “Others”. This means that some web sites (take Google for example) track data about you using some files they put on your machine. This is a “First Party” situation.

Now in other cases, they put files on your machine that send data to other marketing companies. This falls into the “Others” category.

As you can see, all 8 of the sites we selected are tracking our data, and all but Google are sending it to other companies.

So now that we know that basically everyone is tracking information about us, which also explains why when we visit one site, and go to another all we see are advertisements for that site, the question is really “How much, and what do they know, and what do they use it for?”

Well, we again turn to the Wall Street Journal (which has for some reason become a great resource in this discussion) and another great interactive graffic. This one looks at “Google’s Widening Reach“, and how they are collecting more data, and what that data is used for. So take our “Exposure Index” from above, and look at how they use it to target users.

Facebook, however, is a completely different beast. If you have ever looked at the options you have when creating a Facebook “Sponsored Story” or “Ad” then you know they are exhausting. If it is an option, they are tracking it about you!

So here is a quick rundown of what Facebook knows (and uses) about you on their ads:

  1. Location (by Country,  state/providence, city, zip)
  2. Demographics (Age, and sex)
  3. Interests ( yes the ones you select on your profile)
  4. Connections (people that are, or aren’t fans, friends etc)
  5. Relationship interestes (ie interested in men or women)
  6. Relationship Status
  7. Language
  8. Education level
  9. Workplace(s)
  10. Time Zone

So yeah… basically your whole profile, where you are visiting, and when you are visiting Facebook.

There you have it. “Big Web” is following us (just like Big Brother some might say). They are using every aspect of the digital age, and our interactions to make money. But the question still remains “Is this a Problem?”

I say NO! Look the internet, technology, and science in general have evolved human life as we know it. Think about the conversations about the first calculators. We know that all it did was make a single job easier. This information simply wasn’t readily available previously, but there was a lot of people that worked the same numbers. There is a reason why most ads in magazines you purchase are interesting to you. People have studied these same demographics in the past. It just simply took them longer.

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