Most Facebook users don't know that the site uses their interests for targeted ads, a new Pew survey says

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  • Facebook collects data on its users, categorizes their interests, then lists those interests for advertisers.
  • According to a new study done by Pew Research Center, most Facebook users do not know the site lists their collected interests for advertisers.
  • Of those, half are uncomfortable with how the site categorizes them. Some believe their listed interests do not line up with their personal lives.
  • Facebook users can view how the platform categorizes their interests on the “ad preferences” page in settings.

Over the course of the last year, Facebook has fended off accusations from users, civil rights activists, and even lawmakers that it mishandled personal data. In an attempt to smooth it over, CEO Mark Zuckerberg appeared in front of Congress, and Facebook privacy pop-ups began appearing in cities across the world.

Despite Facebook’s attempts to educate users on how the site uses their personal data, however, many still don’t understand the ways Facebook categorizes them for advertisers, according to a new study done by Pew Research Center.

Facebook information about youFacebookYou can find how Facebook categorizes your information and interests by going to the ad preferences in settings.

The study, which sampled 963 Facebook users, found that a majority of those surveyed – 88% – have their traits and interests categorized in a list and available for advertisers.

But 74% of the users surveyed did not know these category lists existed before the survey. Half of them said the practice made them feel uncomfortable, and 27% said the lists didn’t accurately represent them.

These category lists include demographic information like age, education, and political views, as well as interests like whether you like sports, fashion, etc. These sort of characteristics are generated by Facebook’s algorithm, which takes into account life events, hobbies, entertainment interests, and engagement with other content on the site.

The survey also explored two of the specific listings that are part of Facebook’s classification system: users’ political leanings and their “multicultural affinities” – a listing meant to designate people who likely have an interest in a racial or ethnic culture, whether or not they consider themselves an actual member of that racial or ethnic group. In both cases, more Facebook users say that the site’s categorization of them is accurate.

You can read the full results from the Facebook user survey over at Pew Research Center.

And if you’re interested in checking out the information Facebook has compiled on you, go to Settings > Ads > Your Interests. You can change whether you see interest-based ads by going to Ad Settings and selecting “Not Allowed” from the drop-down menu.

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