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How Do Facebook Ads Target You? The Surprising Truth

If you want to tailor a Facebook ad to a single user out of its universe of 2.2 billion, you could. Trying to pitch your boutique bed and breakfast to a 44-year-old “trendy mom” who lives in Seattle, leans conservative and is currently traveling in the Toronto area but hasn’t booked a hotel for the night yet? Go right ahead. Interested in mail-ordering pet treats to a 32-year-old cat owner in Madison, Wisconsin who enjoys Japanese food, doesn’t like pizza and has an anniversary coming up in the next two months? Not a problem.

Targeting ads, it turns out, is almost infinitely customizable — sometimes in surprising ways. The ads you might see can be tailored to you down to the most granular details — not just where you live and what websites you visited recently, but whether you’ve gotten engaged in the past six months, are interested in organic food or share characteristics with people who have recently bought a BMW, even if you’ve never expressed interest in doing so yourself.

Facebook made $40 billion in advertising revenue last year, second only to Google when it comes to its share of the global digital advertising market. Even with a recent decision to stop working with outside data brokers to help advertisers target ads based on things like offline purchases or credit history, this number is expected to grow sharply this year.

Here are some ways advertisers can target you through Facebook:

Monitoring Your Facebook Activity

By now you’ve probably gathered that Facebook uses things like your interest, age and other demographic and geographic information to help advertisers reach you. Then there’s the stuff your friends do and like — the idea being that it’s a good indicator for what you might do and like. So, if you have a friend who has liked the…

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