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4 December 2015updated 01 Jul 2021 12:13pm

Facebook has built up a list of your interests, and it’s probably a little weird

New Statesman staffers are apparently harbouring secret interests in alligators, DNA, and infiltrating the monarchy. 

By Barbara Speed

Facebook shows us ads all the time, and to do so, it turns out it has assigned each of its a users a list of keywords to help advertisers show us the right sorts of things. And if you look hard enough, you can see the list of words Facebook believes defines you and your interests. 

This isn’t a new feature, but was brought to the internet’s attention today by reporter Katie Notopoulos at Buzzfeed. She found that you can access your own list of interests by visiting settings, clicking “adverts” on the left hand side, then choosing “adverts based on my preferences” and “visit advert preferences”. Or, alternatively, click this link

You’re then shown a list of categories, including “business and industry”, “news and entertainment”, and “family” (where the algorithm seems to have tried to figure out your own family situation). For whatever reason – perhaps because it’s hard for an algorithm to figure out what we’re actually interested in based on things we post or click on – the entries in each category, for most people, seems to be some combination of inaccurate and just plain bizarre. 

Under “business and industry”, Facebook was convinced I’m interested in “journalism” (fair), “iPhone” (yep), “Mural” (eh?), and “Victory” (who isn’t?). It also listed “Regent (profession)”, which I can only assume means it thinks I plan to take over the throne if Elizabeth becomes too infirm to rule. “Travel, Places and Events” mysteriously included entries for “Lunch Box” and “Week”. 

Colleagues’ profiles were equally mystifying: a comp-educated political journalist was informed he had a secret interest in “Pianist (profession)”, “alligators” and “independent schools”, while our pop culture writer was apparently the ideal target audience for “eye”, “lip” and “DNA”. 

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The “Lifestyle and Culture” section was actually very accurate for me, but in ways that were a bit disconcerting. The site knows I use Gmail, share a house, and use an iPhone 4S (and makes a hurtful judgement on this in the last entry in the list below). It also has had a good stab at my politics in both the US and UK: 

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While it may hold up a confusing mirror to your soul and/or internet habits, the list has a plus side: if you feel like correcting the errors you can both add and remove preferences on the same page. This means you should be served adverts that are more relevant to your interests, at least. 

I, for one intend to leave mine be, and give the algorithm the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps it just knows me better than I know myself. 

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