Facebook earns phenomenal income out of advertisement targeting tools based on the data and metadata generated by its users. We all know that. As an anthropologist, however, I am interested in how exactly this method of data-based targeting works. Because behind it, there must be a kind of worldview, a theory, if you wish, of how “normal” human beings run their daily lives, who they are, and what kinds of communities they form. A sort of Facebook “ethnomethodology”, in short, of considerable power and influence in today’s online-offline world.
There is, of course, no direct way in which we can examine this, for the algorithms defining the targeting strategies are among the world’s most carefully protected industrial secrets. But there is an indirect, ethnographic way.
On 2 December 2016, between 12 noon and 3PM, I did three long runs through my Facebook feed, and I collected all the advertisements…
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