Who Knows What I’m Talking About?

Lately I have noticed ads popping up on my Facebook page that are directly related to specific words I’ve used in my status updates or  in comments on my friends’ pages. I find that more than a little creepy.

One of the most appealing aspects of the Internet has always been its implied promise of anonymity. Here was a place I could come to look for answers, amusement, and accessories without revealing my taste or nagging insecurities to anyone else.

When I realized I couldn’t pick Lady Gaga out of a police lineup even though the whole world seemed to be talking about her, I turned to the Internet to find some pictures and enough of her music to get the general idea. When I got nostalgic for the melancholy, mediocre music I listened to in junior high, I downloaded a few tracks from iTunes without having to worry about what any clerk might think. I watch videos of cute animals or biting babies just because they make me smile—and I never have to justify my choices to anyone else.

When I joined Facebook a few years ago, I added a whole new dimension to my cyber world. I loved “chatting” with friends I had not seen in years and seeing pictures of their kids and grandkids. Being able to get glimpses into the daily lives of distant relatives helped me develop and nurture our relationships.

I have remained hyper-aware of the two-edged sword Facebook had handed me and am careful to choose account settings that shield as much of my personal information as possible. I am reluctant to “like” businesses or list my favorite songs or movies because I know advertisers will come looking for me as soon as I do.

But in recent days, I have noticed  Facebook ads that mirror words I post on the site. When I mentioned in a very tongue-in-cheek way that my son might have a calling as a voice-over actor for horror films, I started getting Facebook ads about acting opportunities and voice lessons.  A friend who posted something about an acquaintance named Israel was barraged with ads for Middle East trips.

It feels like someone is reading over my shoulder, and I don’t really like that feeling. I understand Facebook is most likely using some kind of mathematical formula to choose ads it wants me to see, but I still can’t shake the idea that someone is reading every word I write in order to tempt me to spend my money.

Definitely makes me pay closer attention to my words. And takes more of the fun out of Facebook.

June 24, 2011

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