Facebook recently began tracking and serving ads to web users who don’t even have an account on the social media site. In doing so, Facebook also quietly changed the ad settings of its users without their consent.
As reported by The Wall Street Journal, Facebook will target both users and non-users across the web to show them advertisements by tracking them with everything from cookies to “like” buttons.
“Our buttons and plugins send over basic information about users’ browsing sessions. For non-Facebook members, previously we didn’t use it,” Andrew Bosworth, vice president of Facebook’s ads and business platform, told the Journal. “Now we’ll use it to better understand how to target those people.”
As noted by David Carroll, associate professor of media design at Parsons School of Design, Facebook users who had previously opted out of being shown ads based on their browsing were opted back in without being told.
— David Carroll (@profcarroll) May 29, 2016
Under the ad settings, the option that reads “Ads on apps and websites off of the Facebook Companies” should be changed to “No” along with the other sections.
Carroll suggests that Facebook may have also violated its settlement with the FTC by not obtaining “consumers’ affirmative express consent before enacting changes that override their privacy preferences.”
— David Carroll (@profcarroll) May 30, 2016
Although opting out of behaviorally-targeted ads is a step in the right direction, Facebook can still track users, as previously mentioned, through cookies and “like” buttons.
Several browser extensions mitigate these issues by blocking such buttons altogether, further limiting Facebook’s ability to follow web users from site to site.
Although extensions such as “AdBlock” and “AdBlock Plus” lead in popularity, questionable moves by both companies, which include allowing some ads by default, have shifted privacy advocates towards “uBlock Origin.” – available for Firefox and Chrome.
“Instead of ABP, many users are now moving to uBlock Origin,” says security expert Andrew Case in his online security guide. “It provides the same benefits as Ad Block Plus without the potentially questionable business practices — and also without allowing paid advertisers to bypass the filters.”
Users can also vote with their dollars and disable the app on specific websites they wish to support by clicking the large power button.
Other worthwhile extensions also include the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s “Privacy Badger,” which similarly works to block online tracking.
Software company “Brave” has even gone as far as to create a web browser that blocks ads and trackers automatically.
While web users can be tracked numerous other ways, these few steps can make a significant difference.