Halloween is just around the corner, so I thought it would be great to start this morning off with a very spooky subject. What would happen if Facebook could read your mind?
Thankfully, Facebook cannot read our minds, but at times it may feel like they can. In this blog, I want to take a look at the information Facebook already gathers about you and then explain how it uses this information to make money.
Finally, we’ll take a peek into a scary alternate reality where Facebook has the ability to read its user’s minds.
How Facebook Reads You Today
So, like mentioned before, Facebook cannot read our minds. Despite that, at times it can feel like they can because of the different tools they have implemented into their social media platform.
source: mirror.co.ukThere are many different algorithms that go into play from Facebook to gather information about you. This information is then stored and used in different ways to make Facebook money. (More on that later.)
So, how does Facebook gather data about you today? How does Facebook seemingly know what kinds of things you’re interested in?
Through your Facebook account
Whilst certain privacy laws go into play, it’s pretty safe to say that Facebook will do all they can to legally hold onto the information you share on the Facebook platform. At the surface level, this can be very basic information such as your age, your gender, where you went to school and what job you have.
Facebook can take things to another level by mining information from the pages you have liked. It can use your ‘likes’ to determine what you are interested in. It can also measure your engagement on Facebook to understand what you’re truly passionate about. If you spend a lot of time on a certain page, or always like certain content, Facebook will take note of that.
Facebook goes further than just that, too. Facebook will also use methods to know your most recent location by checking GPS information or check-in data. If you’re using the Messenger app, or any other apps owned by Facebook, (Including the Onavo Protect VPN app) it’s possible that Facebook could be tracking even more data about you.
How Facebook Makes Money Off Of Your Data
So, how does Facebook use all of the data it gathers about you to make their company money? It’s actually quite straightforward.
Whilst Facebook is a social networking platform to us, to many businesses it is an advertising platform. In fact, Facebook is one of the biggest advertising platforms on the internet, sitting alongside Google.
On Facebook, businesses are able to create advertisements to promote their page, their website, their product, or their services.
There are many in-depth tools that allow businesses to finely customize the audience that receives their advertisements. Businesses can choose to advertise to certain age ranges, people from specific locations, or focus on those that are interested in certain products or companies.
In the marketing world, this is known as user targeting, and unsurprisingly Facebook has some of the best user targeting tools in the world.
As Facebook gathers more data about you, it essentially tells the various advertising algorithms that you belong in ‘x’ group or ‘y’ group for different reasons. Whether it’s because you liked a certain company’s page, or you regularly engage with content from another page.
What Would Happen if Facebook Could Read Your Mind?
Right now, Facebook’s targeting tools are already very good. If you use Facebook a lot or have done in the past, Facebook most likely has a good idea of what you’re interested in.
As a result, you will see adverts on your Facebook feed that feature content that you may be interested in. These adverts blend into the rest of your content on your news feed, so they’re fortunately not as in-your-face as they could be.
Facebook’s tools are already concerning for those interested in keeping their privacy online, but what would happen if Facebook could actually read the minds of its users?
In my opinion, it would be a double-edged sword. It would bring results that would bring more power to Facebook than it should ever have, but in some ways it’ll also make the user experience for Facebook users far better.
On the positive side, if Facebook could read your mind, adverts on the platform would be so finely tuned to your interests that you’d never see an advert you weren’t interested in. You’d also be able to find services for products you didn’t even know existed.
Alternatively, if you were struggling to find a solution to a problem or needed a product but didn’t know how to find it, Facebook could scan these thoughts and provide the right kind of advertisements to you.
On the surface, this does sound quite interesting. The trouble is that Facebook would have access to all of your thoughts. Those thoughts would be saved on the Facebook servers and it wouldn’t stop at thoughts related to just your favorite brand of cereal.
All of your private thoughts and personal feelings could be grabbed by Facebook and it doesn’t necessarily even matter if those thoughts were never even seen by another human’s eyes. I think that’s a very important part for us to consider.
Powerful AI driven algorithms could take your thoughts and potentially use them against you. If an AI algorithm on Facebook was designed to not stop until it had created an advert you would click on, it’s likely that it would do anything to get there, even if that meant tempting you with things you’re trying to avoid.
If these AI algorithms learned enough about humanity, they may even prey on certain human features, such as emotion, grief, and temptation to persuade users to click more ads.
It’s a scary concept, and whilst it’s unlikely that Facebook would ever have that ability, what if they had the ability to read your messages?
Hang on, they do.
Facebook owns the two biggest messaging apps - Messenger and WhatsApp. The next time you send a message on one of these platforms, think carefully. What would happen if Facebook could read these messages and use them against you? Oh, and by the way - Facebook is apparently trying to develop real mind reading technology.
Ollie (zerodudex333) is a big mobile/tech fan. He posts blogs on Monday and Tuesday Mornings.