Business

Here’s how to defend yourself from Facebook’s new browser-spying campaign

Image Credit: Jolie O'Dell/VentureBeat

UPDATE (6/13 1:12 AM PST) An earlier version of this story suggested that Facebook transmits the browsing data of its members to its advertiser partners. In fact, it’s Facebook that uses the data to match its partners’ ads with consumers who might be likely to click them. The first sentence of the story has been changed to better reflect this. Additional information has also been added about browser data collected from Facebook partner sites that contain a “like” button. 

Facebook sent out a notice Thursday about its intention to begin using the browsing data of its members to target the ads of its advertising partners.

It’s a move that most observers saw coming, but one that Facebook has always denied — with vigor.

Facebook can’t capture data about you visiting just any site, only those that have partnered with it. Basically, any site that has a “like” button (such as this one) or that permits you to log in with your Facebook credentials is a Facebook partner. And by virtue of that fact the site will store data about your visit in your browser, which can later be read by Facebook. It makes no difference whether or not you click a “like” button while you’re at the site.

Here’s how Facebook describes it in its Terms of Service:

“We and our affiliates, third parties, and other partners (“partners”) use these technologies for security purposes and to deliver products, services and advertisements, as well as to understand how these products, services and advertisements are used. With these technologies, a website or application can store information on your browser or device and later read that information back.”

Facebook also released a video to advertisers and users Thursday morning explaining the company’s targeting practices. A common mantra among web marketers is that they’re actually doing consumers a favor by collecting the information they need to serve more relevant ads.

What to do (and not bother doing)

If you don’t want Facebook to collect and transmit your browsing data, you can take some steps to prevent it from doing so.

But first, here’s what not to do.

The advertising industry has put up a site called Your Ad Choices, which offers consumers a way to “opt out.” But the site lets you opt out of receiving ads that have been targeted at you based on your browsing data. But it will not let you “opt out” from companies harvesting your browsing data.

Nor can you expect to get any real relief by trying to tweaking your Facebook Privacy settings. Facebook announced today that it would be rolling out “ad preferences,” a new tool accessible from every ad on Facebook that “explains why you’re seeing a specific ad and lets you add and remove interests that we use to show you ads.” Of course, Facebook is not offering you a way to stop them from collecting your browsing data in the first place.

Several browser plug-ins will block sites like Facebook from dropping lines of code into your browser allowing it to track you.

One of the good ones is Do Not Track Me from Abine.com, a Boston-based firm that focuses on building browser tools to secure browsing data and other personal information.

Other solid recommendations that will work on Chrome and Firefox browsers are Ghostery and Disconnect.

And there more basic things you can do.

  • Use a unique email address to log into Facebook. This prevents Facebook from easily connecting your browsing activities to your real identity.
  • Avoid the temptation to log into any site or mobile app using your Facebook credentials. This is an invitation to that site or app report to Facebook when you visited and what you looked at.

Abine CEO Rob Shavell says he isn’t surprised by the news about Facebook.

“I think you’re going to see a lot more companies doing this,” Shavell told VentureBeat. “Having worked at a venture capital firm in Silicon Valley, I think there’s a data bubble going on. There’s been so much money invested in ad tech companies, including Facebook, and so much hype around them, they are going to have to collect more and more personal data. There’s just too much pressure to make all that money back.”

Shavell says investors have put $6.5 billion behind advertising tech companies in the past two years.

Facebook did not respond to a request for comment on this story.

More information:

Facebook is the world’s largest social network, with over 1.15 billion monthly active users. Facebook was founded by Mark Zuckerberg in February 2004, initially as an exclusive network for Harvard students. It was a huge hit: in 2 w... read more »

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35 comments
Michael Amerson
Michael Amerson

This is good because why? We prefer to have irrelevant ads thrown at us so we can complain about them?

Adam Reed
Adam Reed

My browser history? So I'll be getting ads related to Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche and weird Japanese cartoons?

Gordy Seeley
Gordy Seeley

I love that Ghostery, one of the solutions suggested in this article, caught 50 trackers on this page...an article about how to defend yourself from browser-spying.  

Glenn Darwis
Glenn Darwis

Absolutely correct and sebastion is an idiot.

Piotrek Minkus
Piotrek Minkus

I just installed ghostery. Thanks for that! We - caring about our privacy are 1% of facebook users so they still have lots of money from ads :)

Gyulai Zoltan
Gyulai Zoltan

Telling people to stop using facebook login at all sites gives a huge problem for small site owners, who are.NOT trafficking data with Zuck, but only use the techology within their site.

Jason James Delodovici
Jason James Delodovici

joke will be on you when you leave fb open and your girlfriend stumbles across it....

Manisha Verma
Manisha Verma

This was eventually going to happen, right? Consumers don't want to pay for any internet site, so Facebook gets ALL its revenue from advertisers. So, guess who is going to drive the decisions? Its time consumers woke up and took charge of who drives the things on internet... Can't we pay .99 cents a year for facebook, or twitter? For the value I get out of it, I WOULD! I mean, I pay hundreds of $$ for things that are less valuable.

Manisha Verma
Manisha Verma

This was eventually going to happen, right? Consumers don't want to pay for any internet site, so Facebook gets ALL its revenue from advertisers. So, guess who is going to drive the decisions? Its time consumers woke up and took charge of who drives the things on internet... Can't we pay .99 cents a year for facebook, or twitter? For the value I get out of it, I WOULD! I mean, I pay hundreds of $$ for things that are less valuable.

Jason Quin
Jason Quin

This can only sharpen the market (hope it's anonymised of course!).

Leandro Kenski
Leandro Kenski

Luiz Augusto Ricardo Sibanto Simões Gabriel Kenski

Mark Bangerter
Mark Bangerter

This is awesome. This means that I will get ads for things that I want to see ads for. Good job Facebook.

Edward Sentongo
Edward Sentongo

Facebook on shares personal data you willingly put online about yourself. Get over it :D

Ward Chandler
Ward Chandler

is this why I am suddenly getting ads in my feed for items I've visited on ebay?

Byron Anthony Pol
Byron Anthony Pol

It is just close your facebook account that takes care of everything.

Tom Rh
Tom Rh

I want them to sell my data.

Manuil Tonev
Manuil Tonev

So what? If anything, I *want* targeted ads - better than getting random stuff...

Mike Plummer
Mike Plummer

They own Atlas now, so technically Facebook has data on all sites with Atlas tags, ie most of the large ecommerce ones

Novica Zivkovic
Novica Zivkovic

we are not here to watch ads or to buy anything, just stop trying to monetize this way. but i think i can told you how to monetize ads if you wish to hear > free movies, distribute them for free and make money on ads in movies. simple.

Neil Jackson
Neil Jackson

Everything I post on Facebook is made up. Including this.

James Wilson
James Wilson

go and look at 1,000's of things on different sites then clear the history

Nevram Norman
Nevram Norman

companies are going to lose a lot of money trying to sell to me.

Phil Nolan
Phil Nolan

Easiest way is to just stop using facebook and switch to Google+ like everyone else is doing anyway.