Facebook Cracks Open Users History for Advertising Data

Last Thursday, Facebook announced on their blog that they would begin a new program which would allow the social networking site to hoard even more data about their users than they already do, in the form of web history tracking.


Photo: JaysonPhotography / Shutterstock

This isn’t the first time the company has shown an interest in what a user does with their hours online, besides waste it scrolling around looking at other people’s lives for 20 minute bursts at a time.

In 2011, Facebook was sued $15 billion for tracking what users did inside of their browsers after they had already logged out of the service, latching onto tracking cookies and personal messages to create a more accurate picture of what kind of advertising would be pitched to them anytime they logged into the site.

“Let’s say that you’re thinking about buying a new TV, and you start researching TVs on the web and in mobile apps. We may show you ads for deals on a TV to help you get the best price or other brands to consider. And because we think you’re interested in electronics, we may show you ads for other electronics in the future, like speakers or a game console to go with your new TV.”

In plain speak it doesn’t sound much more invasive than Google’s privacy policy shift with the wide launch of Gmail in 2007. The service first took off thanks to its offering of a huge cache of 5GB of offline storage for free, but the way that the big-G planned to recoup the costs for all the data centers it would require to hold this immense amount of baby photos and potential Youtube viral hits was through the much-despised practice known as “targeted ads“.

Targeted ads were controversial because instead of just using your browsing history to show you advertisements on what you should buy next, Gmail would actually read the content of your personal communications, then custom tailor a bar of ads across the same email as you were reading it.

Suddenly you could spoil the arc of an entire letter just by reading the ads that were ticking across the top like something straight off of CNBC.

No one wants to find out a relative passed away because some company just offered you “15% off on Funeral Services at Barry’s Dearly Belated Bodies! This weekend only!”, but despite the major violation of privacy rights, Google insisted it was only an algorithm that was reading what they had to say, and never an actual person who could pass judgement on the people you talk to or the contacts you tend to keep.

What’s scary isn’t just the fact that Facebook wants this data to advertise our own movements back to us, but also that somewhere (probably in the high deserts of Oregon) they’ll have a server keeping all this data in check and sorting through it at speeds that would make the hard drives of supercomputers at the NSA spin.

Of course, the NSA isn’t dumb enough to do the grunt work themselves, not when there’s already someone else out there willing to do it for them. Facebook claims they won’t be keeping anything they need beyond the advertisements you see, but they also aren’t the only people in the world who have an interest in getting their hands on that type of data.

Thanks to Facebook, what used to take the NSA weeks to gather will now be sucked up in a couple of minutes all from one conveniently labeled file in Palo Alto.


Photo: Northfoto / Shutterstock

With the news of the NSA’s breach into the data centers of Yahoo, Microsoft, and Google, it would be ridiculous to assume they don’t also have some kind of setup designed to dig through what’s happening with all the latest gossip on sites like Facebook or Twitter.

The first and easiest method for the most amount of people to avoid being picked up by the new system is to have one browser for Facebook you don’t use for anything else (ie- Firefox is your main choice, only check FB from inside an icognito window in Opera).

The rest of the instructions on how to keep this new intrusion from ruining your private life online can be found below:

  • Bookmark the Digital Advertising Alliance, because you’re going to visit it more than once.
  • You must have cookies on to opt out: If you’re using AdBlock Plus, you need to turn it off before you can opt out.
  • You’ll need to opt out for every browser, and you’ll have to opt out again every time you clear your cookies.

Keep in mind that if you visit a Facebook page of any kind on your regular browser, you will get Facebook cookies, and you’ll want to clean them out (and you’ll probably need to opt-out again).

Some people use one browser for social media sites they’re signed into (Facebook, Twitter, Google, Tumblr), and a separate browser for all of their web browsing.

For mobile:

Visit Opt Out Mobile and follow the directions there for your Apple, Android or Windows phone. Next, opt out on your device:

  • Apple: Open iPhone Settings and go to General > Restrictions > Advertising, and then click “Limit Ad Tracking.”
  • Android: Go to Google Settings > Ads > Opt Out of Interest-Based Ads, and click.
  • Windows: Go to Settings > System Applications > Advertising ID, and opt-out by setting the Advertising ID to “Off”.”