12 Apr 2013

Facebook ads coming from a server nowhere near you…

Who picks the adverts you see on Facebook? The Channel 4 News Data Baby is trying to find out.

Data Baby: Facebook ads coming from a server nowhere near you

When we set up the Data Baby project one of the main aims was to peer into the vast stream of data flowing between internet users and the servers which hold the services many of us use.

We’ve been using special software to help us do this, and while the results may not surprise tech-heads, they’re fascinating for those who use the net every day without a second thought.

Proxy software shows each and every communication between our Data Baby laptop and the online world by intercepting web traffic.

A simple visit to Facebook – just loading up the site and logging on – yields over 300 individual messages flying back and forth between the website and its users.

The communication is all to Facebook’s mighty network of Akamai web servers which provide the code, images and instructions which a web browser such as Firefox uses to create the familiar Facebook page.

Of course, what happens beyond those servers is harder to divine. The adverts which appear on the page are targeted at the interests of Rebecca Taylor, our Data Baby’s identity. Facebook is passing information about those interests to advertisers, who are in turn serving up ads they hope will hit the mark.

Among the immense stream of data, how much comes from Facebook, and how much from other sources?

That’s something we hope Rebecca can shed light on.