Checking your Facebook ad preferences

By Adam Earnheardt

I have a secret.

Facebook collects your data – valuable information about your interests and traits – and share it with advertisers.

No, that’s not really a secret.

Everyone knows that Facebook is collecting this data and how advertisers use this data to target you with ads, right?

According to a new study released by the Pew Research Center, the answers to that question is, unequivocally, “no.” In fact, it appears, most people don’t know.

If you find it hard to believe people are still alarmed to hear Facebook collects and shares our personal information, you’re not alone. What might not be so surprising, however, it that most people are unaware they’re being categorized.

Findings from a new Pew study show that most people don’t know how Facebook uses personal data to classify them based on interests, demographics, political leaning and so on.

They also found that most Facebook users don’t like being categorized.

If you’re a frequent Facebook user, you probably know what targeted ads look like.

While perusing my Facebook feed last week, I “liked” a page related to omelet recipes. Voila, I started seeing ads the next day for eggs, and for a local restaurant with an extensive omelet menu.

Here is (apparently) the real secret: you (not Facebook) control ad preferences.

Most Facebook users don’t know they have this control.

“Overall ... 74 percent of Facebook users say they did not know that this list of their traits and interests existed until they were directed to their page as part of this study,” said report authors Paul Hitlin and Lee Rainie.

“When directed to the ‘ad preferences’ page, the large majority of Facebook users [88 percent] found that the site had generated some material for them.

A majority of users [59 percent] say these categories reflect their real-life interests, while 27 percent say they are not very or not at all accurate.”

It’s easy to find and edit your “ad preferences” page.

When you see an ad, click on the three dots in the upper right hand corner of the post. You’ll see options for “Hide Ad,” “Report Ad,” “Save Link,” and “Why am I seeing this?”

If you “Hide Ad” or “Report Ad,” you’ll be asked why you are hiding it (e.g., irrelevant) or reporting it (e.g., offensive). If you “Save Link” you can revisit the information later.

When you click on “Why am I seeing this,” you’ll see the data that led this advertiser to you, and a link to “Manage your ad preferences.”

You can also find you ad preferences at

Take some time to review your preferences. For a deeper dive, scroll to the bottom of the ad preferences page and click on “How Facebook ads work.”

To read the full Pew Research Center report, go to at

Dr. Adam Earnheardt is chair of the department of communication at Youngstown State University. Follow him on Twitter at @adamearn and on his blog at

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