Facebook to Track Users Across the Web


Privacy button on keyboardWhen Facebook announced major changes to its privacy and advertising policies recently, your BBB did some research to learn what those changes mean for consumers. Facebook announced the changes in an official company blog post on June 12, 2014. Facebook has long been tracking what users do on Facebook (companies we like, ads we click on, etc.), but now Facebook will track what we do on other websites and apps.

In the blog post Facebook claims that they are “Making Ads Better and Giving People More Control Over the Ads They See” as a result of the new policies. In another article “About Facebook Ads,” Facebook says that they want the ads users see on Facebook to be as interesting and useful as possible. In the same article, they tell how they decide which ads to show us. They use “information you share on Facebook (ex: Pages you like); other information about you from your Facebook account (ex: your age, gender, your location, the devices you use to access Facebook); information advertisers and our marketing partners share with us that they already have, like your email address; and your activity on websites and apps off of Facebook, if you live in the US.”

According to the zdnet.com article “Facebook Turns User Tracking ‘Bug’ into Data Mining ‘Feature’ for Advertisers,” in order for Facebook to track what we do on other websites and apps, Facebook will use its own tracking conversion pixel which is an “invisible gif that tracks users as they go anywhere, and everywhere online.” This change has caused great concern among privacy advocates. Jeff Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy (CDD), told the Washington Post, “it is a significant change in the advertising landscape because of Facebook’s size.” According to Facebook, it has 1.28 billion monthly active users as of March 31, 2014. Chester went on to say, “this is unprecedented. Given Facebook’s scale, this is a dramatic expansion of its spying on users.” John Simpson, the director of the Privacy Project at Consumer Watchdog, stated in a San Jose Mercury News blog post, “Decisions are being made about us that we don’t necessarily understand or have any control over.” For example, if you search online for bankruptcy information, advertisers may draw the inaccurate conclusion that you are a high risk borrower and therefore may charge you a higher interest rate on a loan.

Facebook counters privacy concerns by stating in its blog post, “If you don’t want us to use the websites and apps you use to show you more relevant ads, we won’t. You can opt out of this type of ad targeting in your web browser using the industry-standard Digital Advertising Alliance opt out, and on your mobile devices using the controls that iOS and Android provide.”

However, in order to opt-out, users must go to an external website—the Digital Advertising Alliance—and opt-out for each browser on each computer you use. Also, you must re-do this every time you clear your cookies because by clearing out your cookies, you opt back in to Facebook’s tracking. To opt-out of tracking on your mobile device, visit http://www.optoutmobile.com/optout/index.html.

According to Facebook the advertising change will give “people more control over the ads they see.” Beside each ad, you will be able to click an “ad preferences” button, and it will tell you why you were targeted for the ad and give you the option to edit your interests. Now that Facebook has joined the Digital Advertising Alliance (DAA), ads that users see on Facebook will display a blue triangular icon. Many consumers are not aware that by clicking on that icon, it will take you to a site where you can ask that your browsing or other data not be used to build advertising profiles.

For more information you can trust, visit bbb.org/evansville.

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Marketing in the Digital Age: What Happened to our Privacy?


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Jackie is the Operations and Education Foundation Assistant with the BBB. She assists consumers with business inquiries, and does presentations to senior groups and high school students. She is a regular contributor to the blog.

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