How to stop Facebook being so creepy
January 30, 2017 8:09 PM   Subscribe

I did some Google searches on a Chrome browser on my phone like "what to know when getting separated" and "separation checklists". (For a family member, not me personally. Thankfully.) The following day, my husband got a sponsored post in his Facebook timeline from a group of family lawyers - "Are you going through a separation? Free first time appointment" etc.

Our Facebook accounts are linked as married, so I assume that Facebook served him the ad based on my Google searches, because surely the ad appearing can't be a coincidence. (Unless it is? I find it strange that Facebook would serve ads to him based on my data but maybe I'm just underestimating Facebook's level of creepy?) I'd like to change my settings so that doesn't happen again, but I'm not sure which account needs changing and I don't know what I need to change.

Do I need to change privacy settings on Chrome so it doesn't send stuff about my web browsing to other things, or do I need to change privacy settings on Facebook to not look at stuff like that? I already have "Can you see online interest-based adverts from Facebook?" set to "No" (but maybe a "Sponsored Post" is different to an ad?). I also don't know what privacy setting I need to change on Chrome - is it "block third party cookies", or something else?
posted by fever-trees to Computers & Internet (16 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Are you logged into the Chrome browser? Is your husband('s phone)?
posted by i_am_a_fiesta at 8:17 PM on January 30, 2017 [1 favorite]

I use Chrome, and I always use an incognito window when viewing Facebook. This seems to prevent searches I do on one computer from spawning to another computer.
posted by OrangeDisk at 8:25 PM on January 30, 2017 [5 favorites]

Some of this targeting can be done via IP, and there's no real solution unlesss you want to start using proxies or TOR or other anonymizing measures.
posted by SaltySalticid at 8:25 PM on January 30, 2017 [1 favorite]

The ad could totally be a coincidence. Confirmation bias is definitely a thing.

But Facebook can almost certainly serve you ads based on your friends' (and husband's) data. They may have a rule against using your friends' "advertising profile" or "search history" etc. for your ads, vs. using things like posts and profile information, but the technical capability certainly exists.

It's unlikely that Facebook is targeting directly on your Google searches, but it can easily target based on the other pages you visit from those results. In theory, Facebook knows every time you look at a webpage or article with a "Share on Facebook" or "x likes" button in a browser where you've logged in. Having logged out may reduce some of what they're collecting, but even clearing your cookies doesn't completely anonymize you.

Reducing your exposure to this kind of data sharing is a pretty complicated question to answer completely (companies are always finding new ways to track you online) but there's definitely things you can do to mitigate the risk.

Blocking third party cookies will help. Using a browser extension like Ghostery that blocks tracking scripts will help. Either of those can occasionally break things, but not often and you can always toggle them back off to work around it. Turning on "ask websites not to track me" helps, but it's something websites voluntarily follow, so the effect is limited.

If you're searching for something you specifically don't want tracked, using a private browsing window (or incognito window) is the best plan. Make sure you close it when you're done.
posted by duien at 8:31 PM on January 30, 2017 [2 favorites]

Chances are this is ad retargeting done via a third-party - I assume you clicked through onto some sites from the google search. There are dozens of ad companies that work in conjunction with Google ads and Facebook that allow advertisers to target people based on interests and behaviour patterns. It's hard to determine which cookie of the hundreds on your machine are triggering these specific ads. The best approach is to use an incognito window so that activity doesn't pollute your main chrome profile.
posted by GuyZero at 8:47 PM on January 30, 2017 [1 favorite]

Yes, I am logged into the Chrome browser (to both Google and Facebook). And yes, I clicked through to sites from the Google search, and a lot of those sites had Facebook sharing buttons.

Thank you all for the answers - I normally don't trouble myself too much about how companies are using my data because I figure it's not that interesting, but ads based on activity showing up on my husband's page really bothered me. I guess I figured that my data would only be used in relation to me although in retrospect that is rather foolish. I'll log out of Facebook in my mobile browsers, block third party cookies, and try and make it a habit to use incognito windows more often.
posted by fever-trees at 9:15 PM on January 30, 2017

Do you use separate Chrome profiles? Or do you both log in and out of Facebook with the same profile? Separate Chrome profiles should prevent you from seeing ads based on the other person's activity at least.
posted by GuyZero at 9:21 PM on January 30, 2017

Just open an Incognito Window when you do that.
posted by humboldt32 at 9:23 PM on January 30, 2017

GuyZero - no, we both have separate Chrome profiles and separate Facebook profiles, and use our own phones for browsing. The only connection (as far as I can see) is the "married to" Facebook setting.
posted by fever-trees at 10:04 PM on January 30, 2017

Wow, this was two completely separate devices? (I guess I didn't notice that part of your q initially) That is pretty surprising. That rules out nearly everything although it could be IP-based if you were both on home wifi. Maybe it's a coincidence?
posted by GuyZero at 10:08 PM on January 30, 2017 [1 favorite]

I don't think we were both on home wifi at the time, but we were at other times during the day. And yeah, it could just be a coincidence, or it's possible he did a similar search or clicked on something related (because it's a topic on our minds at the moment - he says he didn't, though). It's just pretty specific.
posted by fever-trees at 10:17 PM on January 30, 2017

This is similar to my recent Ask. You might find some of the replies helpful, though the advice seems to boil down to : use Incognito
posted by fieldtrip at 10:56 PM on January 30, 2017 [1 favorite]

You may find this big data article interesting.
posted by saucysault at 12:30 AM on January 31, 2017 [3 favorites]

This is a feature, not a bug.

I thoroughly enjoy the sport of messing with my family's facebook ads. Every time I post a response to a question about head lice on Metafilter, ads for head lice products appear on my facebook. The most amusing part of this is that my advice is always, "Skip the insecticidal shampoos and use some kind of oil" and I promptly get inundated with ads for insecticide shampoos.

So, in order to make your poor husband's life interesting you need to research premature ejaculation, male pattern baldness and how to make a menage a trois work. With luck his advertising feed will get most annoying.

Of course he can retaliate by researching chlamydia, or female to male transition for family members, or anything he can think of that will cause you to get a puzzled frown when you notice a strange recurring strain in your ad profile.

Seriously. Someone in your household may have given out identifying information to facebook. For example they ask for your cell number, saying that it will help you retrieve your password or gain access to your account if you lose it. Some people actually give this out. And of course the reason they use a cell phone number as proof you are who you say you are, is because it is very useful linking data for them to connect the phone to any device you might log into facebook from, such as your work computer or your home computer.

Basically, the rule on the internet is Always Assume You Are Being Tracked. Anything whatsoever that you enter, from anywhere is going into enormous banks of data-managing computers that are mining data out of it and linking it to as much as they can, and most of it is happening on an entirely electronic level. This tracking also includes all your banking transactions, of course. Every time you use a card that is being tracked and linked to your base account too. If you buy your pharmacies generic hemorrhoid ointment with a debit card your facebook feed will throw up an add for Preparation H.

Your husband would have been the first person to know of the tracking and the link between your search and him, because to the computers that do the work he is a pattern of 1's and 0's, and to the people who observe what the computer is doing from the other side he is a unit in a table of data. They are not yet at the stage where they pull out data on individual people and look at it unless they are people that they think they might be able to arrest, or unless they are one of a very few technicians, bored and trying to find something to snicker at by combining facebook profile pictures with humiliating data.

If it still bugs you even though you know you are not posting anything that you are afraid will be linked to you download some good ad-blocking software from a trusted source like Mozilla. There are specific ad-blocks that keep the ads from loading on facebook, or from particular apps or sites. That way you won't see the evidence of the snooping that they accidentally exposed by being too obvious in offering your spouse legal advice.
posted by Jane the Brown at 6:32 AM on January 31, 2017 [5 favorites]

Install the uBlock Chrome extension and ensure that it's set to block Facebook "like" buttons and comments on websites.

It won't affect your use of Facebook (well, you'll see less adverts - which is a bonus) but you won't be reporting back to Facebook whenever you visit a page from a Google search.

More information
posted by mr_silver at 10:28 AM on February 1, 2017

it could be IP-based if you were both on home wifi.

This is happening to me (my searches on my own machine showing up as ads on my husband's Facebook on his machine), and I don't even have a Facebook account. So, one data point to suggest it's from the common IP address.
posted by LobsterMitten at 6:36 PM on May 8, 2017

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