How does Facebook target ads to me

Advertising has a bad reputation: it annoys you. Advertising is only annoying if it is of no interest to the recipient. If, as a man, I get advertising for women's hygiene products, that just misses the target group. As an alternative rocker, I'm not interested in the new Rihanna album either.

On the other hand, many people like to leaf through the Hofer leaflet. And as a cinema fan, I am looking forward to the weekly newsletter with the latest film releases.

The job of the advertiser is therefore to bring advertising directly to the interested target group. In the Hofer example, this is everyone who has a household (which is why direct mail is ideal). Cinemas have to ensure that they collect a large number of newsletter subscribers.

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Incredible targeting opportunities

But what if my target group is a little more special and I can't send a weekly newsletter with the latest updates? Online marketing offers almost unbelievable opportunities for targeting: I want to reach women between 18 and 25 who are into pop music and like to drink wine. My target group are 50 to 65 year old people from Vienna with a weakness for motorcycles. What sounds like advertising for a single platform is a daily reality for us.

Example of a targeting setting for Facebook Ads

Now, of course, the question arises as to how these target groups can be restricted. Data protectionists warn again and again that Google and Facebook pass on the data of their users to the evil advertising industry. An important note at this point: I am a big advocate of data protection and privacy, but an opponent of the blind demonization of modern concepts.

What does Facebook know about me?

With Facebook, the matter is relatively obvious: every user voluntarily gives Facebook information such as gender, age, place of residence, etc. Facebook recognizes interests and preferences via the pages that are liked. Anyone who likes Nirvana, for example, falls into the broader group of alternative rock or grunge.

My Facebook profile is like an open book

But it is important to know that, as an advertising agency, I cannot access the personal data of a specific person if I am not friends with that person. I often have the impression here that the image is being created that we can go to Facebook and get all the information about Max Mustermann from Musterhausen.

What does Google know about me?

Google is making the whole thing a bit more hidden. If you are not currently active on Google+ (and - let's be honest - who is that?), Google cannot easily access voluntarily given data.

The search giant does it very cleverly: All data that users enter into their services (web search, maps, etc.) is recorded and evaluated. This creates a pretty precise personality profile. Think about what you're looking for ...

In fact, you don't need to think twice. Here's how you can see what Google knows (or thinks it knows) about you:

  1. Go to
    There you will see general information about your Google account
  2. Scroll down to Account Tools
    There you will find tools to manage your account
  3. Click on "Account History"
    You will now see all sorts of data that Google has collected about you: search queries, YouTube videos viewed, etc.
  4. Scroll all the way down and click "View"
    The name is a bit misleading in German, it is about the "settings" for advertisements.
  5. Et voilĂ  - here you can see how Google rates you
    The point "Interests", under which you can find more detailed information, is of particular interest. It can be a bit creepy to see how exactly you get hit (but some things are sure to be junk)

Data protection vs. personalized advertising

In summary: Yes, Google and Facebook collect data about their users. And yes, of course, that poses moral questions that may never have been asked before. But we give this data (more or less) voluntarily. And they are used to display advertising (which ultimately enables the tools to be used free of charge) in a personalized manner.

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