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BLOGShadow Profiles and Hidden Demographics

by Randall CraigFiled in: Make It Happen Tipsheet, Blog, Social MediaTagged as: , , , , ,

Have you every really though about how much Google and Facebook know about you? Or perhaps more importantly, would you like to see yourself through their eyes?

Shadow Profiles and Hidden Demographics

As should be obvious, both platforms make their money by selling access to their users: you are the product, and they are monetizing you.

In the spirit of openness and transparency, they actually DO allow you to get a glimpse of the attributes that they track about you. They also have a private-to-them “shadow profile” of you; what they disclose to you is only a fraction of what they know.

Unfortunately, the information that they do share is exceptionally well hidden: one must be an archeologist to find it. Please note that despite their public noises to the contrary, they have no incentive to truly be open, and the instructions for accessing your data are extremely well hidden, and often change.

So as of the date of publication, here’s how to see how they see you:

Facebook: Log into your account, and then click on your account setting in the top right corner dropdown (your profile picture). Select Settings & Privacy, and then “Privacy Checkup”. Here’s where the fun begins; in each section, review or delete the settings to change your footprint.

Select “Ad Preferences”, and then review “Ad Topics”. Then click on “Ad settings”, and click on “Categories used to reach you”. Scroll to the bottom, and click on “Interest Categories” and “Other Categories”. Once you’ve opened this dialog box, click on “See all interests”. There are other assorted areas that also contain your private information, too. That’s ten clicks. But at least you’ll know how the Facebook machine makes its money.

Google: After logging onto Google, go to This page has all of the data that Google has on “product you”, or at least the data that they are sharing. And if you’re like me, you’ll see plenty of incorrect data: I’m definitely NOT interested in Pet Food, I definitely AM a parent, and I really don’t care about Cats. On the other hand, they did get my age, income range, and marital status correct, even though I didn’t give them this data. By clicking any of these, you can “turn off” or update the profiling data you provide.


Look at your own profile on these two platforms, and see if they have done a good job profiling you. While you’re there, choose to (or not to) reduce the amount of tracking that they are doing.

Privacy insight: If you use Google’s Chrome browser on your computer or an Android phone, even more information is leaked to Google. So if you’re privacy conscious, stick with the Safari browser, and use the DuckDuckGo search engine.

Privacy insight #2: The data sources for tracking are all around us. Think of each of these devices as a huge vacuum cleaner, sucking in every bit of information we share. Worst devices are Amazon Alexa devices, Google Home products. Most surprising “data vacuum” devices are Smart TV’s: the vast majority of them share your viewing habits with the TV manufacturers, cable box providers, data brokers, and Google. If you’re concerned, go through every setting and turn off all data sharing and “update” options, or stick with a privacy-oriented set-top box such as the Apple TV.

Related post: Viewpoint: Big Data and No Competitive Advantage – The Tenant Problem, Will Facebook Take Over the World?

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