Facebook company, that owns the biggest social media platforms and communication channels, holds a lot of data about each individual using (and even not using!) their platforms. It does not only hold the information that you have supplied voluntarily (e.g. name, language, friend list, relationship status), but holds much more information that you might not have known you provided.
This includes: your location in realtime, websites visited, interests, search history, devices used, photos taken, comments posted, messages sent, but also – what you have said. Terms and conditions of Facebook apps allow them to record you at all times. You might have noticed that some ads appearing on your newsfeed somehow know what you might be interested in buying, even though you haven't searched for it yet. It might have happened because you spoke about it with your friend and Facebook recorded your conversation using your phone and then sold that information to relevant advertisers.
The amount of information Facebook holds is unbelievable and it might be frightening. On the other hand, if you want to advertise something – it's a great opportunity for you, because you can show relevant ads only to the audience that you want to specifically address (therefore increasing sales at the same time decreasing advertising costs). Unfortunately, there is a lot of unethical practices of businesses abusing this comprehensive ads system.
I have compiled list of reasons why you should defer from buying on Instagram or Facebook, or at least double check each "offer".
1. If it looks like a great offer, probably it's not.
Let's say, you run a business trying to market a product which is like thousands of other similar/identical products and has hardly any unique selling points, you will probably try to fight with low price. The problem is, people always can find your product cheaper elsewhere. To get new customers, a business might try targeting a very specific audience and prepare an ecommerce website that would make them think they're lucky. For instance, you might see some stress relief toy for £19, reduced from £40 with a big countdown notifying you that offer ends soon. The reality is though, this product probably costs no more than £5 and the countdown is always the same for new visitors of the website. Unique, silly toy/gadget that has promotion expiring in a few minutes? I will pass.
If it's too good to be true, most of the time it is.
2. Free product, just pay for shipping! Yeah, right.
You might have noticed many offers with "free" products. It might have been watch that on the photo looked even like an expensive one, it might have been a gadget or toy based on some superhero licence, for ladies it might have been a lipstick, a ring or golden necklace. If you think about it, it doesn't make much sense to spend thousands of pounds on advertising products that you would send out to any one for free, right? Correct. Most of the time this type of offers are a scam, designed to collect credit/debit card information for a fraud. Later these collected car details are used for online purchases. To be fair, not all of this type of "free" products' ads are fraudulent. Some are genuinely sending products to customers, but the reality is that the shipping costs are actually higher than they should be and they cover costs of cheap Chinese product. What's the gain for a business here? They collect your important data (e.g. home address) for later use.
There is nothing for free if someone has paid for you to see the advert.
3. I was just looking for this product and it appeared with special price on my feed!
As I said at the beginning – when you use social media apps you give a consent to track your every move and even record everything you say. If you were looking for something or you were just intending to do so, there is a great chance advertisers already know about it. There is no such a thing as coincidence in digital, programmed world. Every time you spot some advert that is very relevant to you – it happened because everything you do online is collected as valuable information and associated with your id. You might think there is nothing wrong about that, but just be wary, there is a reason businesses target you and it's unlikely the reason would be altruistic and genuine.
All social media apps are free only because you let businesses record every step you make.
4. Last minute Valentine's/Mother's Day gift etc.
The easiest target that doesn't require much preparation from businesses are last minute shoppers who always forget about special occasions. It's typical to see commercials on TV and radio focusing on highly commercialised days like Father's Day/Christmas etc., but it is especially visible online. You can avoid ads on social media offering you the best price for high quality products that will be delivered the next day. Just remember – those who spend so much money to be visible on your feed in this busy period, hardly ever they will have a competitive price. They are looking for a quick gain and easy return on investment. If you really want some valuable gift last minute, make sure to dig deeper in the web – the best offers are usually not on the first page of Google search results.
If you forgot to buy a gift, search for it, don't tap on an ad.
5. Bought from China for 50p, sold for £10.
Unfortunately, it's a very common practise for many businesses to create unethical ecommerce websites. Nowadays, it's so easy to create a free, fully functional ecommerce website for many web developers. Many people create ecommerce websites that look like genuine, big online shop, where in reality it's just a cover-up for dropshipping page. Fraudulent ecommerce website will collect details from you, will collect money for the product and then, on your behalf will buy it cheaper from Chinese supplier. The outcome of it is that you might have paid £10 for something, then middleman bought the item for 50p on your behalf from Chinese store. The fact is, you will get your product, but you might have bought it directly from Chinese shop yourself and save money.
If you like certain product, just search for it online.
This is my list of a few tricks that you should be aware of. Don't get fooled with online "promotions" and always double check the website you're visiting. If you're really interested in certain product, make sure to check if you can find anywhere else cheaper. Usually you will be shocked how much cheaper you can get it for.
Probably you wonder why would Facebook not take care of their users and remove all scam ads? Actually, they do remove a lot of them, but: a) there is way too many of them to respond quick enough, b) any ad brings a lot money to Facebook so they not always care if the ad is high quality or not, as long as they collect money from it.
Please let me know if you found this article interesting. If there will be enough interest, I will write another article about how to protect your privacy and prevent social media companies from recording you and tracking your every move. Stay tuned!