Facebook and Google have reams of information about their users, and both have come under fire for what they do with that data. While you can’t opt out from receiving ads from them, there are a few things you can do to control your data – and maybe be a little entertained along the way.

FACEBOOK

Regardless of your privacy settings, Facebook knows a lot about you. Or at least it thinks it does. It knows what you do on Facebook – your age, marital status and maybe your job history, pages you have liked and groups you follow on Facebook – and it knows what you do outside of Facebook.

Let’s start with what Facebook thinks about you. From your homepage on Facebook, find an ad (that shouldn’t be hard) and hover your cursor over it. A little arrow will appear on the top right of the ad. Click on “Why am I seeing this?”

I don’t like rabbits, radishes, turnips and car insurance.

From here, you’ll see an explanation of why you’re seeing this particular ad. But you can dig deeper. Peel the onion. Click on “Manage Your Ad Preferences” to see what Facebook thinks about you.

If that doesn’t work for some reason, try clicking here.

This brings you to the ad preferences, which are often unintentionally funny. For instance, Facebook thinks I’m into the Metropolitan Opera. This is, shall we say, not accurate. It’s possible I once clicked on a story about the Met, or accidentally clicked one of their ads, and that click tells Facebook something that isn’t true. Just because you like a story about a topic doesn’t mean you like the topic itself. But Facebook doesn’t know that.

I’m also not sure what conversion marketing is.

I could be a nice consumer and let Facebook know I’m not interested in the Met. Instead, I’m going to let it slide. Facebook also thinks I like vikings. Not the NFL team. Actual vikings. It also thinks I like liquids (sort of true, I guess), the human face and yoga. If Facebook thinks you like vikings who do yoga on their faces while drinking something, you are more likely to see ads about this and related topics, whatever that means.

This could happen in your feed. Just try googling information on jewelry, or visit a jeweler’s website, and watch what happens to Facebook. There’s a good chance you’ll be seeing jewelry ads for weeks.

But there’s a way to keep your outside searches from affecting what you see on Facebook. When you’re done looking at what Facebook thinks you like, you can scroll down on the ad preferences page. Click the tab that says “Ad Settings.”

Here, you can control what data Facebook is using to show you ads. It’s important to know that Facebook could still be looking at your browsing history – it’s simply promising not to show you ads based on what you’re searching for on the Internet. And they’re not the only ones watching your browsing history.

GOOGLE

Your Google history depends a lot on what kind of phone you have. If you have an Android phone, Google likely knows more about you than Apple users. That’s because you’re likely using Gmail, Maps and a host of other products that tell Google where you’re at and what you’re doing. And Google keeps an actual map, dedicated to keeping track of places you’ve visited. Check out your map here.

It’s true: I travel to warm places.

It can be unsettling seeing those red dots. And iPhone users likely aren’t immune from the tracking.

But that doesn’t mean iPhone users are a mystery. If you use Google Maps, Google Photos or even Google something while you’re traveling, there’s a record of it. You can look at your map here.

Freaked out? You have options.

At the bottom right of the map is a settings gear. Click the icon and it gives you the option to pause location tracking, delete your location history and manage personal locations like your home and work.

Similar to Facebook, Google thinks it knows a lot about what you like and don’t like. You can access the full list here. You will likely see dozens of topics Google thinks you are interested in.

At least one thing amid all this data collection is correct: I do like Maine.

Augusta and Waterville news

Get news and events from your towns in your inbox every Friday.


  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.