Facebook is adding some new sections to its ‘Download Your Data‘ (Instagram) and ‘Download Your Information‘ (Facebook) tools in order to provide more transparency over the information it collects on your activities, and how it uses them to show you more relevant ads and content as a result.
As explained by Facebook:
“Over the last decade we’ve been working to extend the functionality of our self-service data access tools to help people access data in meaningful ways. Today’s step is part of these efforts. There have also been growing efforts by many policymakers and regulators to enhance people’s rights around access to their data. These laws include the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in Europe, which was implemented in 2018 and the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA), which took effect earlier this year.”
Essentially, Facebook is adding these new sections to ensure full adherence to the CCPA, providing access to more complete insight into the various ways in which its platforms track and store user information – and what that information is, specifically, for your profile.
The new elements now included in your data reports will be:
- Interactions on Facebook and Instagram – Facebook will now provide information on the actions you take on its platforms, including profile updates, Page and post Likes, comments, etc. Much of this information was already included in its previous report option, but Facebook is adding more specific insight to increase transparency over its processes.
- Inferences Used to Improve Your Experiences – Facebook will also now include more data on ‘inferences’, or data correlations that it uses to show you more relevant content. “For example, if someone shares an article about a football team that one of their friends posted, we may show them other football-related content. We infer that the person is interested in football because they engaged with their friend’s article about the sport”. Inferences are essentially educated guesses based on what you engage with.
- Categories Assigned to Instagram Accounts – Facebook will also now include a list of the categories it’s assigned to each user on Instagram, which it uses to suggest content in the Explore tab (you can get an idea of this already via Ad Interests on Instagram and Facebook’s Ad Preferences).
Inferences is the big point of emphasis of Facebook’s update. The Social Network is keen to point out that it’s not the only digital platform that uses inferences in its content recommendation processes, and that these digital breadcrumbs can help deliver improved, customized experiences for each user.
So while some might question how Facebook is able to match them up with relevant ads and content recommendations, Facebook is looking to highlight how inferences play a key role in this – as opposed to, say, your phone “listening” into your everyday conversations and tracking what you say, which Facebook has repeatedly noted that it does not do.
Through inferences, Facebook is able to improve the relevance and accuracy of its systems, often in ways you wouldn’t expect. That’s because Facebook’s databases is so huge, incorporating the actions of some 2.5 billion people. At that scale, Facebook’s systems are very good at inferring trends. And they may even be able to infer such before you realize that’s what you’re interested in.
For example, on a broad enough scale, you would be able to identify the next steps that people are going to take. People who like country music will like four-wheel drives, will like camping, etc. (this is a very broad and basic example, not intended to stereotype). At Facebook’s scale, it can actually spot those later trends coming, so while you may not have thought that you’d be interested in buying a new tent, you may have started on that journey, and that can lead to Facebook pointing you to content, even ads, that you’re going to be interested in, before you even know it.
That could, among many other factors, be why Facebook and Instagram seem to show you ads for products that you swear you’ve never looked up, that you’ve only mentioned with friends. Inferences somewhat clarifies this, and seeks to provide more transparency over how its systems operate.
It’s good to see Facebook providing more tools on this front – even if history shows that people probably won’t use them. Still, the fact is that they exist, and they’re there to access. If you have a question about how Facebook’s systems work, and what it knows about you and your preferences, you can download your info and check it out, at any time, while you can also update your Ad Preferences to stop seeing ads from brands you don’t like.