Facebook has just taken data collection to a whole new level: targeted ads based on visits to webpages that feature the Like button. That’s right: the ads you see won’t be determined by your decision to click on the Like button, just on your decision to surf the web.
Since the Like button’s introduction in 2010, embedded cookies have followed logged in and logged out users alike around the internet, sending information from each Likable page visited back to Facebook. What has changed recently is how the social media platform views that data: in 2011, WSJ’s Digits quoted a Facebook spokesman as insisting, “No information we receive when you see a social plugin is used to target ads.” Now, exactly the opposite holds true.
A mid-September announcement from Facebook did its best to sidestep a data privacy argument by applauding its newfound ability to provide more relevant, useful ads and reminding users that they remain (somewhat) in charge of which ads they see. Although not exactly the announcement we would have written, it did serve as a good reminder to take what controls we are given:
- Make use of Facebook’s Ads Settings page. You have the option to hide ads based on your use of websites and apps, to hide the actions you’ve taken in response to ads, and to manage your preferences in determining which ads you see. Just don’t let yourself think you are doing more than hiding: as Facebook will remind you when you adjust these settings, users are simply changing the potential relevancy of the ads they see and not the number of ads they see or the amount of information that Facebook collects about them.
- For users connecting from the United States, Canada or Europe, take additional measures to opt-out of what web viewing data collection you can. When you adjust your online interest-based ads setting, Facebook will offer to direct you to the Digital Advertising Alliance of the United States, Canada or Europe. Again, be aware of the limitations of doing so: the DAA of the U.S., for example, provides the opportunity to opt-out of just 124 participating companies’ data collection; when we tried it, we succeeded in opting out of only 79 of those companies’ cookies.
- Be willing to take regular, proactive measures. Log out of Facebook after each session and use a cookie blocker such as EFF’s Privacy Badger when browsing the internet. Your extra effort will be rewarded with a newfound sense of privacy.
It is an undeniable fact that the social media platforms we have come to rely on are funded by advertising revenue, but this alone does not justify the constant push by entities such as Facebook to find new ways to collect and exploit our data. Privacy advocates have long asked Facebook to limit Like button data collection to those who choose to click on the button; given that Facebook’s current response has been to move in the opposite direction, users must continue to actively defend what privacy they still can.