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Most users don't know Facebook keeps a list of their interests, traits

And about half say they're uncomfortable with it, says a study by the Pew Research Center.

Facebook  logo is seen trough a magnifying glass on a
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Ignorance may be bliss for Facebook's users.

About 74 percent of adults in the US who use Facebook didn't know the social network keeps a list of their interests and traits for ad targeting, says a study released Wednesday by the Pew Research Center.

About half of Facebook users said they weren't comfortable that the company compiled this information.

The world's largest social network came under fire in 2018 for a series of scandals over data privacy and security. The episodes caused concern about whether Facebook does enough to let users know what information it tracks and how it uses the data.

Facebook knows your age, gender and location, along with what you post, the pages you like and the businesses you check into on the social network. All that information helps the company determine what ads to show its 2.3 billion users.

Facebook users can view their "ad preferences" page to see what the social network thinks their interests are and why they're seeing a given ad. This list can include users' political leanings, hobbies and even the type of smartphone they use. Facebook users can also remove an interest from that list to change the type of ads they see on the social network.

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Pew Research Center

"We want people to see better ads -- it's a better outcome for people, businesses and Facebook when people see ads that are more relevant to their actual interests. One way we do this is by giving people ways to manage the type of ads they see," Facebook spokesman Joe Osborne said in a statement. "Pew's findings underscore the importance of transparency and control across the entire ad industry, and the need for more consumer education around the controls we place at people's fingertips."

Facebook plans to host more in-person events about ads and privacy this year along with making the social network's "settings easier to use," Osborne said.

Researchers surveyed 963 US adults who use Facebook from September to October. As part of the study, they asked users to look at their ad preferences and answer questions about what the social network knows about them.

The Pew Research Center said it decided to study Facebook because it's used by more Americans than other social networks such as Twitter along with other reasons.

"These findings relate to some of the biggest issues about technology's role in society," Lee Rainie, director of internet and technology research at the Pew Research Center, said in a statement. "They are central to the major discussions about consumer privacy, the role of microtargeting of advertisements in commerce and political activity, and the role of algorithms in shaping news and information systems."

About 59 percent of Facebook users reported that the interests outlined in the list represent them very or somewhat accurately. About 73 percent of Facebook users, who were labeled conservative, liberal or moderate, also said the list accurately described their political views.

Facebook, which has been criticized in the past for allowing advertisers to target certain racial and ethnic groups, also tries to determine if a user has an interest in African-American, Hispanic or Asian-American culture. About 60 percent of Facebook users who were assigned what's called a "multicultural affinity" said they had a very or somewhat strong interest in that ethnic group. 

The scandals involving Facebook are making consumers more aware of the information the social network is collecting about them.

The tech giant reportedly gave companies such as Netflix, Spotify and Microsoft greater access to its users' personal data than previously disclosed, but Facebook has denied doing so without user consent. In March, revelations surfaced that Cambridge Analytica, a UK-based political consultancy, accessed the data of up to 87 million Facebook users without their permission.

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