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Here’s How Facebook Knows Who You Meet In Real Life

A couple months ago a friend and I went to Colombia for vacation. While we were at the beach one day, we met a group of people and spent several hours hanging out with them. We never exchanged phone numbers or email addresses, we didn’t share much information about ourselves other than our names and where we lived, and we didn’t connect on social media. I didn’t even have my phone on me at the time. However, when I got back to New York and checked Facebook, I saw that two of the people we met popped up in my “People You May Know” recommendations. Weird, I thought. Actually, it’s creepy. Is Facebook tracking my every step?

Facebook’s brand is based on the community it creates, and its mission is to connect everybody in the world. So it only makes sense that the platform frequently suggests new friends for users to add to their networks. But in the past, the company’s suggestions for connecting users have raised some eyebrows.

For example, take the story about a psychiatrist who claimed her patients were popping up on her list of suggested friends (and on each other’s lists) after visiting her office, which is obviously problematic for medical privacy reasons. The psychiatrist is far from the only Facebook user to discover mysterious friend suggestions — for years there have been stories of people who go on dates, attend parties or browse through a book store only to see people they interacted with in person pop up in their Facebook at a later date. None of these connections are coincidences, of course. So how does it happen?


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