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Can You Opt Out of Facebook's Data Brokering?
By: Jessica Cherok
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A couple of months ago, Facebook partnered with four data brokering firms in an effort to increase the flow of information about Facebook users to advertisers, and thus — more targeted ads. Only it’s hard to understand what that partnership means for users, or why we should care.

Here are the basics:

Data brokers collect, and then sell your information. There is a whole lot of your personal information on the Internet — name, address, age, sex, education, etc. A lot of it comes from public sources, others from less public, but where you can pay to access data, and some (maybe even most) comes from our own selves via social media sites.

A company advertising on Facebook can now access user information collected by these data brokers to create targeted ads. Meaning: Company A begins to work with one of the four brokers partnering with Facebook, and asked for all the email addresses of people who use mint toothpaste. The data brokering firm creates a list of email address and sends the list to Facebook. Then Facebook matches the data broker’s list with its list of email address, and whoever is a match is then going to see a targeted ad from Company A.

In other words, as a Facebook user you’ll likely see ads for products on websites you may have visited entirely outside of your Facebook use. You ordered something from that clothing site, and suddenly it’s all over your Facebook feed. If you never liked the product’s page on Facebook, the most likely reason is one like the scenario described above. Regardless of whether you were logged into Facebook or not.

Unfortunately, there seems to be little way around this happening. There had been a lot of attention paid to Do Not Track, or DNT, but as you can see from the example, Facebook needs cookies to track Internet activity for the data exchange to happen. So it wasn’t surprising when earlier this month Facebook said it did not support DNT. Without any regulatory reason to compel them to do so, Facebook may be able to ignore browser DNT signals altogether.

In other words — even if you say you don’t want data brokers and Facebook to track you, they still can, and probably will.

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About the Author
Jessica Cherok is an advocate for online privacy, campaigning for ethical data practices and the protection of personal privacy.
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