Does facebook know where you live?

Posted by IAB Australia On July 08, 2014

To most people, I think the answer to this question would be “obviously, yes”. After all, it says it right there on your profile “Lives in Sydney, Australia”.

But that wasn’t the question I was asking. I wanted to know whether facebook knows where you actually live. You know, the street address and everything.

This question came to me when my wife sent me the following text the other day:

Explain to me HOW exactly XXXX XXXXXXX (old next door neighbour) could be suggested as a FB person I may know???? Do not tell me it’s a coincidence. They’re XXXXX spying on us.

Her conclusion was that, due the low probability of our friend groups overlapping, facebook was using another source of data to draw the conclusion that she might know them (which she did) and want to be friends with that person (which she didn’t).

I thought about how facebook might know where we live, and where you live for that matter. Over time location targeting from IP addresses has got better, but there’s still some reasons to get a false reading. Of course, most facebook access is now via their app and your phone has a much better way of passing where you are onto facebook than your computer.

If I was running a digital service that people accessed throughout the day and there was a consistent location they were accessing from between 09:00 and 17:00 and a consistent location they were accessing from between 18:00 and 22:00 then I would conclude that one was their place of work and the other their home address. If I’d applied that process to you and your facebook use, would I know now where you work and where you live?

Everyone knows that there are things in the facebook terms and conditions that they’ve never read. And they know that they’ve probably already told facebook they can track them this way. Here’s the relevant section from facebook’s data use policy:

We receive data from or about the computer, mobile phone, or other devices you use to install Facebook apps or to access Facebook, including when multiple users log in from the same device. This may include network and communication information, such as your IP address or mobile phone number, and other information about things like your internet service, operating system, location, the type (including identifiers) of the device or browser you use, or the pages you visit. For example, we may get your GPS or other location information.

However, I think from my wife’s reaction it’s fair to say that the use of the data in this case has strayed into the creepy territory we’ve all been warned about.  And she’s also not madly keen on the emails she receives from Amazon the day after visiting their website with offers directly related to the products she’s been looking at. To be fair, it would be pretty disturbing if someone followed you round Myer and then knocked on your door the next day offering to sell you the things you’d been perusing.

I know we’re all working on how we can use the media and digital data we can access, the customer information our clients hold and the data we can source from specialist third parties to improve the advertising we’re running. Thinking about the complexity of this challenge made me feel a little bit down. But I’ve just looked at my facebook newsfeed and now I feel a lot better.

IAB Australia

IAB Australia is the peak trade association for online advertising in Australia. As one of over 43 IAB offices globally and with a rapidly growing membership, the role of the IAB is to support sustainable and diverse investment in digital advertising across all platforms in Australia.