How Facebook knows you’re looking at holidays: The Digital Landscape

Welcome to my column
The Digital Landscape

by Jim Dobbin

Starting this week, I will be updating and posting a regular series of digital marketing posts that I created for my client base. These are aimed at small business owners often puzzled by the technology surrounding them whilst having to “keep up” with their competition. 

If you have a specific question regarding web development, digital or social marketing, please send me an email here and I will answer it in a new post. 

In this week’s post, I look at the modern phenomenon of typing, “Whitsundays” into Google, only to have your Facebook feed fill with travel ads.

How Facebook knows you’re looking at holidays 

How Facebook knows what you’re looking at

We’ve all been there. You’re searching for hiking gear, a pair of shoes or a hotel online and then you see an ad for it immediately on Facebook, Youtube or another website. 

I will explain how Facebook knows this, what you as a business owner can do with this knowledge, and also how to stop your online behaviour being tracked if this all has come as a bit of a surprise to you. It shouldn’t be a surprise though. By signing up to Facebook (because everyone reads the t’s & c’s right?), you have agreed for the data to be collected, and that is how they pay for their operating costs – and make a huge profit of course. Google Analytics is online behaviour tracking, and you wouldn’t have a website without it.

How does Facebook know?

Facebook uses a few methods to track your online behaviour, regardless of whether you’re logged into it or not.

Like Buttons

Those Facebook “like” and “Share” buttons you see around the internet, (including here) are tracking your browsing activity, whether you’re a Facebook user or not. If you’re logged into Facebook and visit a website with the Like button, your browser sends Facebook information about your visit. If you’re logged out or don’t have a Facebook account and visit a website with the Like button, your browser sends a more limited set of info about the web page you’re visiting, like the date and time and other browser-related info.

Within Facebook

From within Facebook, it is tracking your likes, ad clicks, checkins, your posts and your photos, along with the interactions with your friend’s posts, photos, checkins, etc, and using that information to direct relevant advertising to your feed. Facebook is free to use because of the enormous revenue they generate through advertising.


Facebook advertisers use a pixel, a bit of code on their website, that sends even more information to Facebook’s servers, like what buttons you click, pages you visit and purchasing behaviours …and they match it to your Facebook profile, if you have one.

Contrary to the modern myth, Facebook isn’t listening to your conversations, because it doesn’t need to.

Can you stop it?

There are several different methods of stopping the tracking power, depending on how seriously you take it – and remember Google, YouTube etc. is doing the same thing (even more so on Android devices)

The best way to stop tracking…

Use a Privacy-Focused Alternative Browser

…like this not only stops Facebook and the usual suspects from its website, it blocks ads, trackers, fingerprinting, cryptomining, ultrasound signaling and more. It says it stops over six hundred tracking attempts in an average browsing session, and offers network privacy with a free VPN.


Brave stops online surveillance, loads content faster, and uses less battery, and the best bit for people like me who love their browser extensions, maintains support for Chrome extensions. I use it for the performance enhancements it gives me.

An indication of what happens in the background during one week’s worth of browsing using the Brave browser.

What it means to you as a business owner

Facebook offers cheap and effective advertising with amazing market segmentation, as in being able to target really specific audiences. As an advertiser, you can target gender, age group, location and language, but it is in the detailed targeting where you get a phenomenal choice of specifics including (or not including, which is also handy) demographics, interests or behaviours. 

Here are some examples of specific audiences you can target…

  • returned from travel one or two weeks ago
  • anniversary in 61 -90 days
  • New parents or parents of specific age groups
  • Away from family or away from home town
  • Upcoming birthdays, friends with upcoming birthdays, friends of newlyweds, newly engaged, who recently moved, 
  • Education level, school/university, field of study
  • Hobbies, Interests – plus a whole lot more

There is a potential reach within 40km of Sydney of 1.1 Million users interested in Gardening (1.3 Million in Melbourne and 650,00 in Brisbane)

Further Reading – here’s an interesting breakdown of Facebook Advertising for Urban Horticulture


This is where it really gets spooky. Did you know that you can advertise directly to Facebook users that are already aware of you? They may have visited your site, facebook page or Instagram account, and you have the opportunity to bring them back by offering them an added incentive to revisit, like a discount or offer. Retargeting uses the analytics of the Facebook Pixel which, as I said above, tracks pages or products they have viewed, so you know what they are interested in on your site. You can even target users that have put something into their shopping cart, but not gone through to payment, and perhaps offer a limited-time discount to complete it.


Hopefully that’s shed some light on one of the mysteries of the internet, as well as given you food for thought. Behaviour tracking is the price for using a free platform like Facebook, and I use it fully aware that it is going on. I use Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, YouTube, Google, etc. with the knowledge that my behaviour is being tracked. I am not giving away my bank details, nor posting anything that I would be ashamed to show my kids or elderly mother. It isn’t as if they are gaining access to your hard drives like you see in the movies. I also advertise on Facebook, and recommend my clients do so as well.

The rapid development of technology means we sometimes assume something is secure because everyone else is doing it. A classic example is the assumption that emails are a secure form of communication – but your internet service provider, and probably your web developer, can access it. 

If you have any questions regarding tracking behaviour, or anything related to web development, digital and social marketing, please email them to me at 

About Me

I am recently semi-retired from a lifetime in business, starting in my teens and including marketing management and CEO roles. I now teach businesses how to create their own websites with one-on-one training specifically tailored to their business, saving them money and giving them control.

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