Facebook will start collecting data on users’ web viewing for the company’s ad-targeting systems next month, in a bid to serve more relevant ads on the social network’s pages. But privacy campaigners say its opt-out policy doesn’t go far enough…
Using its ‘Like’ and ‘Share’ buttons on publishers’ pages, the social network will track users and then tailor ads to their interests on their Facebook pages, Instagram feeds and mobile ads that use its ad network.
“We sometimes hear from people that the ads they see aren’t as useful or relevant to them as they could be,” Stephen Deadman, Facebook’s global deputy chief privacy officer, wrote in a blog post. “Last year, we introduced online interest-based advertising – ads based on people’s use of other websites and apps – that helps solve this problem.”
“With online interest-based ads, if you visit hotel and airline websites to research an upcoming trip, you might then see ads for travel deals on Facebook,” Deadman wrote.
The tracking allows Facebook to know the page that was visited and to see the cookie files that Facebook pushes to its users’ browsers to identify them.
Some users may benefit from targeted ads, others are concerned about privacy. The company stated that users can opt out.
“We’re introducing an additional way for people to turn off this kind of advertising from the ad settings page right on Facebook,” Deadman wrote. “If you choose to use this tool, it will become the master control for online interest-based advertising across all of your devices and browsers where you use Facebook. If you’ve already made a choice about online interest-based ads using existing tools, you don’t need to do anything. We’ll continue to honor your choice across all of your devices and browsers where you use Facebook. And we’ll of course continue to support the Digital Advertising Alliance, as well as the iOS and Android tools going forward.”
Speaking to the Guardian, Brendan Van Alsenoy, author of a Belgium data protection report into Facebook and a legal researcher at the KU Leuven Centre for IT & IP Law, said: “This new setting is a very modest step in the right direction. But the net result for privacy is limited.”
The use of tracking information for behavioural ads is still an opt-out process, rather than opt-in with explicit consent, warned Van Alsenoy.
“The ‘new’ setting only determines whether or not Facebook will use its tracking data for ad purposes. Regardless of the setting, Facebook will still collect the same information about your visits to external sites containing Facebook social plug-ins. Facebook only promises to no longer use this information for the purposes of interest-based advertising,” Van Alsenoy added.
A report commissioned by the Belgian data protection authority claimed that Facebook used long-term cookies to track users, as well as non-users of Facebook, when browsing the open web, using its social plugins such as the Like button, which is placed on 13m sites, including health and government sites.
The social network disputed the claims, saying that the report did not understand Facebook’s use of data.