- Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg insists you can control the data Facebook shares about you with advertisers and with the world.
- I love using Facebook and don’t want to quit it. So I’ve taken Zuckerberg up on his promise and severely limited the ads Facebook will show me.
- It doesn’t solve the crux of the problem, but does limit the financial reward I provide to Facebook for collecting so much data about me.
In two days of public grilling, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has stated repeatedly that if you use Facebook, you can control the data Facebook shares about you with its advertisers and with the world.
I love Facebook and don’t want to delete it. When I signed up, I made a deal with Facebook and I was OK with it: I get to use it for free and in exchange I willingly share some info about me to let Facebook serve me relevant ads. Sure, Facebook, go ahead and send me all the ads you want about things I want to buy: bicycles, skiing, fitness, fashion, travel, pets, movies, books and so on. It sounded great.
But as Facebook’s data privacy scandal has embroiled the company, I’ve grown increasing disgusted.
Back in 2014, Facebook began watching people as we wander across the internet. At that time, it instituted privacy controls that seemed to put me in control, to tell Facebook which people can see my posts, friends or the public.
But that’s only half of the story.
Zuckerberg also repeatedly told Congress that Facebook doesn’t share my info directly with advertisers, nor does it sell my data. It uses data on me to decide which ads to show to which people.
But it’s harder to tell Facebook which data on me to use for its ads. And Facebook is still tracking more information about me for this purpose than I want. For instance, the Facebook Audience Network is used by mobile apps serves ads in a mobile apps and analyses what people do with a mobile app.
Ad blocker AdGuard recently analysed 2,556 popular apps and found 41% of them use Facebook Audience Network. That means, even if you don’t use Facebook, these apps could be sharing data about you with Facebook.
By the way, Google does this on an even bigger scale. 65% of the apps that AdGuard analyses used one of Google’s tracking services.
On top of that, if I visit a website that is using theFacebook Pixel, Facebook knows I’ve been to that website and can show me an ad for the company in my newsfeed. That’s creepy and annoying. Pixel is a popular tool used by website owners to track and analyse what you do on their websites.
Now, Zuckerberg insisted many times in his congressional testimony that I can control the ads I see.
It’s not easy to do that, but through its Ad Preferences page, I can opt out of seeing ads based on how Facebook is monitoring my internet use by clicking on “no” “no” and “no one” in the settings.
I also adjusted what Facebook thinks it knows about me. This requires sifting through the list of stuff it tracks on me, one by one, and deleting.
I started with the “Your categories” setting.
Next up, I went through the “Your interests” settings: what Facebook thinks it knows about me in terms of business, hobbies, sports, travel, etc.. I had to delete them one-by-one, including the ones listed in “more.”
I started to do the same for the section marked “Advertisers you’ve interacted with.” But after 15 minutes, with no way to know how close I was to the end, I gave up for now. I will come back to it and delete more each day.
This was perhaps the most shocking section, as it involves lists shared with Facebook where my name appears, even though I have no idea who some of these companies are, or how they wound up identified with my Facebook profile. It was also filled with politicians (like Doug Robinson, below), most of whom I didn’t know.
But because Facebook is ad-supported, it warns that I will still see ads.
Again, I’m A-OK with that, especially ads on topics of interest to me. But I don’t get to choose. The advertiser, who is paying the bill, gets to choose.
Facebook says that, even if I limit my interests, it will still show me ads based on the following:
- “Your age, gender or location.
- The content in the app or website you’re using.
- Your activity off of the Facebook Companies.”
That last bit, “Facebook Companies” is particularly worrisome.
In addition to the Facebook Pixel and Facebook Audience Network, Facebook owns a company, Atlas that puts a bit of code on your browser to watch what you do on the internet. Facebook also owns “Moves,” a fitness tracking app that monitors your location, if you use that app. And it owns Onovo, a security app that was the subject of another privacy scandal for its policy of sharing data with Facebook.
In other words, while you can control the ads you see, you can’t really control the information that Facebook gathers on you.
So, if the nation wants more control over how our lives are being watched, we’ll need to push, and probably regulate, Facebook and the whole internet ad industry.
In the meantime, for people like me, that don’t want to quit Facebook, we can limit the ads Facebook shows us through its internet spying practices, limiting the financial reward it gets for such creepy behaviour.
If you are an ad industry employee with information about surprising or unethical ways internet companies gather and use data, we want to hear it. [email protected] or DM me @Julie188 on Twitter.
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