1984 Fan, Do You Find Facebook’s Ad Targeting Creepy?

If you’re coming here because you clicked on an ad on Facebook, I targeted you as a fan of the book 1984 (I’m a George Orwell fan too). You can target ads to people’s interests that precisely on Facebook, and you can refine it even further than that.

Does this creep you out at all? Is this just how the Web works? What’s your take? Leave a comment with your thoughts.

Below’s the text and screenshot of the ad. A previous attempt at this Facebook ad was blocked because I used a copyrighted 1984 cover as the image. Here’s what worked:

Subject: 1984 Fan, how’s this ad?
Body: you’re being targeted as a fan of 1984. what do you think of that? i want to hear from you on my blog.


28 thoughts on “1984 Fan, Do You Find Facebook’s Ad Targeting Creepy?

  1. I would find it quite ironic if Facebook or any other networking subscribers would gripe about being targeted so accurately. If find it equally ironic that the administrators at Facebook shut down your ad. The most intriguing aspect of internet marketing back in 1993 was the prospect of just such accurate marking tactics. SPAM has poisoned the stream and I am no more optimistic about its recovery that I am about the Upsala Glacier coming back. So target away my friend. I am glad that Facebook provides such granular search capabilities. I am also pleased that at this point it has not become overly commercial. As long as subscribers representing a given product or service are forthcoming about their postings and listings the site will remain popular. If not it will go the way of My Space.

  2. Clever experiment David!
    Even though I wasn’t target by your ad, as usual I have an opinion.
    As a consumer I would rather ads be relevant and not the usual random junk like the ever famous punch the monkey banner. But then again I am a biased marketer.

  3. I found this site from an ad about marketing (not 1984)… but I did find the tagline interesting. I’ve recently started using facebook ads for landmarkcreations.com to target facebook members interested in advertising and marketing. So far it’s been more effective than I ever imagined. I wish Google and Yahoo would get that marketing model to work. (From and advertiser’s standpoint)… but overall I like the “BIG BROTHER” reference.

  4. I was interested to see the reactions so mixed. I suspect Facebook has done a lot of research leading up to this release, and observed the same, which gave them the quasi-mandate to roll out the ad platform. As for me: I’m in the Not Creepy camp. But then, I’m a marketer. Does a butcher object to a sharper cleever?

  5. Ironic is the word that suits it best, only since ‘1984’ was your target.
    You succeeded in getting me to click through on an ad, a rare accomplihment for sure. Of course had you been looking for anything more than an opinion, say “1984 fan: have you read Brave New World? Buy it here!”, I wouldn’t have gone near the ad.
    I’ve gone many routes as a consumer of ads, I dealt with the banners, then got Firefox and ad-blocked for a while. After switching to Mac, Camino didn’t have the ad-block, but integrates better, so i use it. I think the average user reads avery ad, I do, at least sub consciously, but the ‘power users’ of the internet have adapted to not click through to all the junk that floods the side of websites.
    Admittedly, not everyone is a power user and therefore I’m the wrong demographic for ANY click-through.
    Nice-looking blog you have here, can’t say I’ll be back though, I have a fleeting fascination with marketing when something interesting comes up, but not enough to frequent a marketing blog. Good luck with future experiments!

  6. As a former marketing professional, I don’t see anything unusual or creepy about these ads, though I can see how they’d make some people uncomfortable. I guess I am used to the idea that there is no such thing as online privacy.
    Apropos of not much in particular, the main difference between left and right when it comes to 1984 is that the right views the book as an instruction manual.

  7. All information on Facebook was voluntarily uploaded by the individual. So all public information is fair game to anybody else on Facebook. It is actually the point of a social network, to share interesting facts and information about yourself to other people. If you don’t what other people targeting you for liking 1984 or the like then take that information off of Facebook.
    My problem begins when certain organizations such as the government forces people to give up public and/or private information and then exploits that information.

  8. I think that people who don’t think Facebook is extremely creepy lack any kind of foresight whatsoever. The frightening part of the novel 1984 was how everything was the result of a slippery slope, a slow progression towards a world that was ultimately horrible.
    Facebook is not just a nice company out there to give us free stuff. They are a company with no inherent business model, and they need to live up to a $15 billion valuation and all the hype that surrounds them. Their employees have jumped from Google or other good jobs and have put a lot of personal investment into it. I don’t believe that Zuckerberg is a bad person, or any of the employees are bad people, but it is setting up a bad situation. Very bad things are the result of bureaucracies, and Facebook’s bureaucracy has enormous power (all of our personal data that they can keep forever according to their TOS), and a lot of desperation (no real way to make money). If at some point, they are faced with an option of letting Facebook empty itself of cash vs exploit our personal data in ways that NOBODY likes, what do you think that they will do? If any employee says, “No, I will not cross that line”, they will be canned by the people with the most to gain/lose.
    Furthermore, Facebook’s information on you is of far higher quality than anything else, such as email. Google already stated that they completely erase personal data when you close accounts, and they just do simple keyword matching. Facebook is going to create psychological profiles based on your data (and if they don’t, their marketing partners sure as hell will) that will be far more effective than anything out there. Their business depends on that. So you might say, “This is no different from X, Y, Z”, but in the back rooms Facebook is arguing to partners the exact opposite.
    My biggest concern is not for myself. I am a technologically savvy person with financial self-control and a good helping of skepticism. But what about people who are not? What about the easy targets? Facebook is putting giant bullseyes on the most vulnerable people on the network. Sure, you’ll always be targeted by ads in one way or another on the web and elsewhere… but not with extremely personal data like that which Facebook not only gathers, but stores, AND associates with your identity. A good marketer with a background in psychology is going to be able to manipulate the easy targets extremely effectively–beyond anything we’ve seen so far. How is that a good thing? It’s the complete opposite of good in my book.
    “Capitalism is capitalism” has never been an effective argument for letting people exploit others or do things that are clearly harmful to society. An economic argument never trumps a moral or ethical one, in my opinion.
    Am I ready to leave Facebook? Not quite yet, but I’m heading there. I will definitely be keeping my eye out.

  9. I’d agree with Elise above. I put this information about myself on Facebook and can take it off if I wish. I would expect the owners of facebook to do something like that because it makes them money, and hey, capitalism is capitalism. In a way it’s good, because I’m seeing advertisements about things I already like and don’t have to ignore another flashing auto insurance banner. When the information exchange is involuntary is when I have issues.

  10. I actually feel kind of special. To be honest, I never click ads, and I clicked this one, and I’m pretty satisfied.
    On a more generalized scope though, of course it’s a little disturbing, but we caused it. I volunteered myself for that disturbance. It would be nice if internet information was all voluntary, though; the involuntary spread is what I’m more concerned about.

  11. I like it, I chose to put this information online with hopes of meeting like minded people and forging further connections with friends I already have. The internet is incredible as it allows this flow of ideology. Some have privacy concerns, but I say F*** that, I’m an open book and I’ll leave out what may harm me, but I’ll be myself and let others make what they want of me.

  12. I’m not sure that I’m creeped out about it … I guess I expect it, given that I am putting information out there. It’s like if I’m at a store and I fill out a survey or something, and then they send me coupons in the mail. I chose to put the information out there. Now if ad programs or things like that are searching for things on my computer itself, not necessarily what I make public, then I have a problem with it. Something like this, I don’t really mind. I also try to learn about the advertising industry so I know what to look for. I know that the people behind those automatic Google ads don’t care about me personally and aren’t trying to do me a favor by making it more convenient for me to find products I might like. I’m not fooled, and I don’t have to click anything that I don’t want to.

  13. The fact that after I do a flite search on cheaptickets…all the advertisements around my gmail were concerning flight between those two destination creeped me out….this is actually taking it ahead on the information I have made public.

  14. i dunna’ like it,thats what i think -_-;;
    ive also seen an ad which grabbed one of my pictures and used it in an in ad demo of their picture app….im not at all happy with that.

  15. It’s a bit troublesome that facebook is now more open to ads- they interrupt our news feeds, paint our sidebars, and soon they’ll travel from friend to friend as pointed out by a recent CNN article. If I join a group or sign my name to a product, such as a Ford Ranger, it will appear on my friends’ feeds. “Alan likes the Ford Ranger.” there will also be a picture.
    Does anyone care? Frankly, it’s mostly an inconvenience, and for the most part the items advertised are the sorts of things I am interested in, they’re just becoming more difficult to ignore. If I start receiving emails to my school account based on facebook ads, I will consider that too far, but this instance of being able to identify users based on their interests is nothing shocking, although I only clicked this link because it was not an ad.

  16. It’s somewhat creepy, although I understand how it works and why advertisers pay highly for it. I guess my thought is that if I’m going to have to see, watch, and listen to ads anyway, then they may as well be targeted to me about stuff that I like.

  17. I think it’s a great idea for them to target us in this way. It’s not like we’re compelled to click on any ad, and it’s not like we’re really giving away “personal” information. They can make better money, which means a better website for us.

  18. Not really creepy as much as inevitable. I know the web for the virtual marketplace of information that it is. I also know that if i were to start blogging about loving scat videos and transvestites or that i need new rims and a clutch for my car, the ads would find their way into my line of sight eventually, weather they are relevant at the time or not.

  19. Not to sound crackpotish, but this is rather disturbing. As a fan of 1984, the last thing I want is someone knowing all about me. It’s one thing to put up information on your profile with the express purpose of conveying your interests to friends, but having a third party be able to comb through your information is another. Whatever happened to some form of privacy? Not everyone on facebook can look at your profile, it’s limited to friends and your network (if you’re set up like that. only friends can see mine), so please don’t respond by saying that if you put your info up there then you want the world to know or no longer value privacy.

  20. I’m not concerned at all. I’m a graphic design major and I understand that is how advertising is supposed to work. You have a target audience and you do you best to try to capture that target audience’s attention.

  21. It’s interesting, to say the least, to see where online advertising is going as it gets inside you to find out who you are. Of course, the target person has the choice whether or not to entertain the advertiser by choosing to click or not to click on the advertisement. Gmail’s method of delivering ads is a little more touchy because it mines data from “private” emails. However, Facebook’s new socially networked, targeted ad system is merely making use of data that someone is voluntarily making public (for the most part, I’m sure Facebook will also grab info from your account such as location and age that someone may not make public, but I digress). I’m just waiting for my TV to serve up ads based on my telephone calls…

  22. While I know that nothing is private online, it bugs me that I have to think about what I’m typing into my interests. More importantly, I worry I’ll start getting shitty ads loosely based on an attempt to match my interests and/or annoying ads that try to grab my attention through animations/flashing. Overall, I think facebook is a great tool and as much as it’d be nice to see it remain away from the commercial world, I understand the selling out to marketers thing. I just find it annoying that so much of our lives need to be driven by this consumerist culture. If it takes random ads on the side of my profile to keep facebook around I’ll deal with it, as it is a really useful tool. Besides, someone will make a plug in for firefox or grease monkey to block stuff anyways. Not like I’m ever gonna click on an add that is obviously selling me something (versus yours which was peculiar and obviously something different all together in someway (and I was right.) But based on the fact companies bank on internet ads, there is obviously large amounts of people that do in fact click on them.

  23. I think this is really, really creepy-just like I think Gmail’s “personalized” ads are creepy when I check my Gmail. However, Facebook provides a superior social platform for keeping in contact with all of my friends who are spread out across the country, going to colleges in many different states. Just like Gmail provides a superior e-mail platform, one that makes it easy and efficient for me to read and manage my e-mail. If you could suggest less creepy alternatives, that would be great. But if I want to stay in contact with people I don’t see on a daily basis, and they’re all using Facebook as their primary method of keeping in contact, I don’t really see that I have a choice. Maybe that’s the really creepy part of Facebook…ads like that creep me out, because it feels like “they” know too much about me, but I’m not going to stop using the service even if I’m just a guinea pig for marketing tools.
    What a scary thought. I think I’m going to delete everything from my Facebook!

  24. yeah I agree with Mike. I chose to make this information public even though I know it is probably being data mined by an NSA database. Interestingly, I like how the right and the left like to adopt 1984 when it suits their needs and then ridicule it as radical or unrealistic when it doesn’t.

  25. This is humorous. Intelligent of you to point that out. It IS how the web works. It is Information Technology, the age of information. IT Security is one of the most coveted skills in the IT market for a very good reason.

Comments are closed.