Facebook knows what you’re thinking – inside the data Mark Zuckerberg collects

Have you ever had a conversation with a friend about something you've been thinking of buying, only for a targeted ad to appear for it a day or two later?

You're not alone. Social media platforms like Facebook collect so much data on us that sometimes their prediction algorithms can serve us up with scarily accurate recommendations.

While some believe that this is because our smartphones are secretly listening in on us, in reality a large part of it has to do with the sheer amount of information that companies like Meta (which owns Facebook) gathers from across the web.

In many ways, this is much scarier than being listened in on, as social media giants know so much that they're able to anticipate and predict what you want to see before even you do.

Meta is able to do this partly thanks to its ability to collect data on you from across the Internet, not just across its own platforms.

When you create an account on Facebook or Instagram and agree to the company's privacy policy, you're effectively signing away your data to the company.

It can then use cookies to track you across the web, gaining an understanding of not just your age, name, and location, but what products you buy, which websites you browse, and what videos you watch.

It also gathers data from mobile apps on your smartphone by partnering with lots of other data-hungry companies which are more than happy to share your data with Facebook.

Meta uses this information to create a 'buyer persona'—a sort of digital twin of you that exists in cyber space. As it tracks you across more data points, this doppelganger becomes an increasingly accurate representation of you, making it possible for Facebook to serve you up increasingly accurate recommendations.

In some ways, this enables Meta to know more about you than you do about yourself.

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If you want to find out exactly what Facebook knows about you, the site's new Privacy Center feature lets you see what data the company gathers from you, clean up your old posts, and edit privacy settings to stay more secure.

You can also the amount of data Facebook gathers from you elsewhere on the web. You just have to head to Settings & Privacy on Facebook, click 'Settings', then find 'Off-Facebook Activity'.

Here you can clear your data history from different apps and websites tracking you, and then switch off 'Future Off-Facebook Activity' so that the amount of data gathered on you is minimised.

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