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Using Facebook Ads Audiences for Global Lifestyle Disease Surveillance: Promises and Liminations

August 22, 2017 by Mattheus Araujo

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Every day, millions of users reveal their interests on Facebook, which are then monetized via targeted advertisement marketing campaigns. In this paper, we explore the use of demographically rich Facebook Ads audience estimates for tracking non-communicable diseases around the world. Across 47 countries, we compute the audience of marketer interests, and evaluate their potential in tracking health conditions associated with tobacco use, obesity, and diabetes, compared to the performance of placebo interests. Despite its huge potential, we find that, for modeling prevalence of health conditions across countries, differences in these interest audiences are only weakly indicative of the corresponding prevalence rates. Within the countries, however, our approach provides interesting insights on trends of health awareness across demographic groups. Finally, we provide a temporal error analysis to expose the potential pitfalls of using Facebook's Marketing API as a black box.