You may have seen an ad like this on your Facebook feed recently: A screen-printed T-shirt that includes personal attributes like your job or the month you were born.
It looks like an ad for a cheesy T-shirt that was designed just for you, but it's actually an ad for a T-shirt for people with similar Facebook targeting data as you. Designing hyper-specific shirts like these, then using Facebook’s ad targeting tool to target ads to people with those exact attributes is a whole new way to make money online.
Let’s say you’re a mom in Texas who was born in August and has a dog. An advertiser could set up an ad for a shirt that's tailored for those moms with dogs, and pay Facebook to make sure it’s only shown to those moms.
The shirts are printed on sites like Sunfrog, which provide an easy way to sell tons of customizable cheap shirts. “The power sellers are almost completely automated,” SunFrog CEO Aaron Singler told VICE News. “They use scripts and teams to generate these different designs, and then repeat them across however many names, however many years, how many, however many, you know, animal breeds there are, to kind of throw a really wide net.”
At first, people may have sincerely enjoyed having a shirt that expresses what they share with Facebook, but now the internet has taken notice — there’s an entire subreddit dedicated to making fun of the most cringeworthy examples.
Facebook talks about how it enables small businesses, and they’re right. This is just another way the company has enabled other people to make money off of your data.
This segment originally aired June 27, 2018, on VICE News Tonight on HBO.