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article imageFacebook's ad targeting opt-out is not enough, say experts

By Caroline Leopold     Sep 19, 2015 in Internet
Facebook plans to sell sharing data to advertisers that serve targeted ads beginning next month. To offset privacy concerns, Facebook offers a new tool to allow users to opt-out of targeted ads.
Facebook has been collecting data each time someone clicks the Facebook "Like" or "Share" button. Now Facebook will turn this trove of data into treasure for the social media giant.
Browsing data will be funneled from the millions of websites that offer Facebook sharing buttons into the company's ad targeting systems. What that user clicks on external sites may turn into ads in Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, and other properties of the company.
While users want ads that are more relevant to their interests, advertisers are failing in this regard. A prime example is when users see ads for a product they have already bought elsewhere online.
Facebook announced in a blog post an easier way to opt-out from targeted advertising. The opt-out is in the Settings panel and Facebook says the tool serves as a "master control" to disable advertising across all devices.
Before this change, users were forced to go to external, third-party website Digital Alliance and had to also opt-out for their mobile devices. Instead of going through multiple steps, now users only need to opt-out within Facebook itself.
Experts say the change does not go far enough in protecting user privacy.
Legal researcher Brendan Van Alsenoy who authored a report on Facebook's use of data for Belgium told The Guardian:
“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."
Rainey Reitman, activism director at the Electronic Freedom Foundation said that users are tracked even if they don't click a "Like" or "Share" button.
“Promising not to use information is not the same as promising to actually delete the data,” she told MIT Technology Review.
Rainey added: “The ‘Like’ data is especially problematic. Most people probably don’t even realize that whenever they load a page with a ‘Like’ button on it, Facebook gets a little information on them.”
The enormity of the data defies comprehension because of the number of websites that have Facebook sharing buttons. These sharing buttons are almost ubiquitous and found on news, entertainment, and even on healthcare and government websites.
A growing number of Internet users have taken matters into their own hands and downloaded ad blockers. The apps stop ads from running and interrupt tracking.
“[Desktop] users concerned about Facebook tracking should continue to use tools such as Privacy Badger, Ghostery or Disconnect”, advised Van Alsenoy.
More about targeted ads, facebook privacy, optout, electronic freedom foundation
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