Facebook Conversations Tested

The New Statesman Newspaper carried out an interesting experiment to test whether or not Facebook was listening in to people’s conversations.

Six staff members picked one or more subjects that are not part of their lives and which they had never searched for online or bought anything relevant to the subject etc.

Then they each read out a script (with their phone switched on) designed to point out these subjects in their lives and see if Facebook then started advertising relevant items to them.

The subjects were things such as a vegetarian chatting about her desire for Domino’s Meat Feast pizza.

The most interesting was a lady named Lizzie whose lines included “I just wish there was an app that would sort it all out for you… some kind of contraception app”. When she opened the Facebook app the following  morning, she was presented with an advert for Natural Cycles, the first app ever certified for contraception in Europe.

WOW.

However, there’s a psychological phenomenon called the Frequency Illusion (or the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon). It states that If you hear a new word or phrase for the first time and consciously have a conversation about it, finding out what it means, suddenly, for the next few days, you’ll see it constantly.

If someone says to you ‘when was the last time you saw a yellow car?’ you’ll see three in the next two hours.

For the other five people in the experiment (including the vegetarian), Facebook did not show anything even vaguely relevant to the subject’s spoken about. It’s just a statistical effect that some people will experience Facebook offering relevant and unexpected adverts at times that can seem spookily accurate.

Facebook are very clear that they do not listen in to conversations.

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