To the outside world, I’m a 20-something journalist, newly-employed at Quartz, who lives in Brooklyn.
In Facebook’s eyes—or at least in the way the social media company sells my profile to advertisers—I’m a “new job” “millennial” living in a “housemate-based household” who uses Chrome and recently switched from Android to iPhone.
I’m also apparently interested in Quartz, the hard white or colorless mineral often found in igneous, metamorphic or sedimentary rocks.
In an effort to learn as much as Facebook can about its users, it seems the same network that recently came under fire for promoting fake news stories is also prone to mixing up common nouns.
To serve up tailored advertising in your timeline, Facebook relies on a so-called “black box” of algorithms to cull a “particularly comprehensive set of dossiers on its more than 2 billion members,” according to ongoing reporting by ProPublica. The nonprofit news site found the social network offers advertisers more than 1,300 categories for ad targeting.
In looking through my own profile, I learned that Facebook’s understanding of my life and choices ranged from the creepily accurate (I guess I do really like plums) to the totally nonsensical (“private island”).
And then there were the mistakes only a machine brain could make. Aside from confusing my current employer with a rock formation, Facebook’s algorithms also believe I am interested in:
- Astoria (the city in Oregon, not the New York neighborhood where I spend much of my time)
- Vulture (the scavenging animal, not the culture-focused New York Magazine offshoot I follow for episodic TV recaps)
- Girls (the comic featuring naked, flesh eating, egg-laying women, rather than the award-winning millennial-focused dramedy on HBO)
- Knot (the unit of measurement, not the wedding-planning website many of my friends use to pass on information about their nuptials)
Friends and colleagues shared other points of algorithmic word confusion, including:
- Her (the film starring Joaquin Phoenix, rather than the dating app for queer, bisexual and gay women)
- Matter (physical substance in general, not the media company)
- Mint (the aromatic plant, not the web-based financial management service)
- Premiere (an opening night, rather than Adobe’s video editing software)
You can find out what Facebook thinks you like by navigating to the ad preferences section in your profile’s settings. If you find any unusual word swaps—please tweet me. I’m making a list.
In the meantime, I’ll continue to scroll past the ads for gemstone-adorned jewelry as they turn up in my newsfeed.
It’s still the wrong Quartz.