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Nearly 75 percent of U.S. users don’t realize Facebook tracks their interests

Despite a series of privacy scandals, most Americans still don’t realize how Facebook tracks data for advertising online, according to a new Pew Research Center study. The study, published on Wednesday, January 16, says that 74 percent didn’t realize Facebook categorizes interests for advertising before the study.

Of the 963 American adults surveyed between September 4 and October 1, 51 percent weren’t comfortable with Facebook’s Your Ad Preferences page, where the network places users in different categories based on online behavior to deliver targeted advertising. Nearly a third (27 percent), said the categories weren’t accurate.

Besides tracking user data to deliver diaper ads to new parents and similar targeting, Facebook also guesses each user’s political affiliation and racial or ethnic “affinities.” The latter doesn’t necessarily aim to identify race, but whether or not a user has an affinity toward (or empathy for) a certain racial or ethnic group. 

According to the Pew study, 73 percent of Americans said that Facebook had placed them into the correct political category for the 51 percent of users that had been assigned a category. In comparison, 21 percent said they were given a multicultural affinity — 60 percent of those users agreed the category was accurately assigned, and 57 percent said they are actually part of that group.

In an earlier Pew study, a majority of survey respondents suggested that it would be fairly easy for social media platforms — beyond just Facebook — to determine their race and interests based on their online behavior. 

Part of the majority that had no idea Facebook has put you into a category? Each user has a “Your Ad Preferences” page accessible from the settings menu. Here, users can see what categories Facebook has assigned. The data is based on the Pages and posts that you like on the network, as well as activity off of the social network tracked on websites using the Facebook Pixel. Clicking the X on each category will remove the category from your preferences.

Further down, underneath Ad Settings, users can turn off ad data from partners (i.e. off Facebook) and ads based on activity on Facebook and end some of that ad tracking. With the feature off, Facebook won’t add you to any more categories. Ads will be less relevant, though Facebook will still use information like age, gender, location, and others.

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