HOW FAR DO FACEBOOK FOOTPRINTS TRAVEL?
FARTHER THAN YOU MIGHT THINK.
Internet users understand The Big Tradeoff that’s at play in order to have the world’s information at our fingertips free of charge. The price of admission involves navigating a minefield of pop-up pitches and pre-scroll video ads that guard access to the free goodies. It’s an extension of the broadcast TV and radio model that offers content creators compensation for attracting eyeballs online. Fair enough.
But Internet advertising has gone way beyond the strategic placement of banner ads in its sophistication. And by sophistication, I mean stealth tracking of everyone who’s online. Which is almost everyone on planet Earth.
It’s not like we’re unaware that our online activity is being tracked. Anyone who’s shopped for something on Amazon.com realizes they’ve been baptized in the ad retargeting pool the moment they hop onto Facebook and see ads…for the very items they just browsed on Amazon. It’s kinda creepy. But not entirely unexpected on a platform that can measure every click, scroll and mouseover with surgical precision. Once again, we’re asked to exchange some of our privacy for free access to apps and websites that inform, assist, entertain and delight us. What’s not to Like about that?
I Agree… Kind Of
If tracking your every online movement sounds a bit underhanded, well…it’s not. It’s all spelled out in the social contract you accept when you click the “Agree” button during sign-ups. It’s true of Facebook, and every other app you download and use. It’s also true that more people have climbed Mt.
Everest than have read the 9,000-word legal babble in those terms of agreement scroll boxes. Even so, it’s common knowledge that you’re being tracked while logged onto a site like Facebook.
What’s not so common is knowledge about all of the ways you’re being tracked inside – and outside – the Facebook Universe. Here are a few examples that might raise your eyebrows like they did mine.
Did you know that Facebook follows what you do while surfing the web and using apps outside of its network? Facebook (and other companies like Google who employ the same tactics) uses this info to refine the targeting of ads served up to you. Facebook doesn’t sell your personal info – it sells access to you through its network (without telling marketers who you are).
Over the years, Facebook has morphed from a company that did very little covert tracking to an advertising behemoth that is all-in when it comes to dealing with your browser cookies wherever you roam online. Always with the intention of knowing you better – so it can market to you better.
For the same reason, Facebook tracks your smartphone’s location, app usage, and data from the mobile sites you browse. The Facebook app can alert friends when you’re nearby and, according to an article in the Wall Street Journal, listen to what music is in the background when you’re writing a post and add in a mention. If that creeps you out, you can turn off location sharing for Facebook and stop Facebook from using app data. But this also disables other features you might find useful. There’s that Big Tradeoff again.
Facebook does offer you some degree of control over your privacy settings, and a relatively new feature lets you manage your ad preferences. To do this, click on the down arrow in the upper-right corner of an ad (a.k.a. “suggested post”) in your news feed and select “Why am I seeing this?” from the drop-down menu. Click on the “Manage Your Ad Preferences” link on the next screen, and viola! – the behavioral profile Facebook has built on you appears. By removing items from the list, you control the kinds of ads you’ll see in the future.
As long as your browser accepts cookies, you can’t prevent Facebook from tracking you. But you can stop it – and other companies – from using that data to deliver ads. Facebook and over 100 other companies
(Amazon, eBay, etc.) are part of the Digital Advertising Alliance. You can use a tool on their website (www.aboutads.info/choices) to opt out of online behavioral advertising. It doesn’t stop them from collecting info about you, but it does require them to stop sharing your info with other companies.
Targeted advertising isn’t inherently evil. It can introduce you to things you will, in fact, find interesting. My problem isn’t with Facebook for compiling your Likes into the double helix that makes up your online advertising DNA – my objections arise from the tracking done by third-party app developers
in the Cling-On Empire.
Sneaky Snooper Apps
There are several ways that app developers can cloak tracking of your online activity – the idea being that if you don’t know you’re being tracked, you won’t ask them to stop.
Via Facebook Apps: If you accept a friend’s request to play a Facebook game, you’ve given the game’s developer permission to track you and pull whatever information they want. If that doesn’t grate your cheese, connect these dots: Your personal information, along with info on millions of other people, now resides in the developer’s database. And large databases filled with personal info are like crack to
hackers. It’s a good idea to review/edit installed apps in your Facebook Settings – you can remove apps you’re not using and limit what information each app can access. But keep in mind that making changes here doesn’t remove any personal info the developers have already collected about you. It just limits
that ability going forward.
Via Facebook Logins: When you visit a site and it prompts you to “Log in with Facebook”, your doing so gives that site permission to track you. Avoid logging in using Facebook altogether – but if you must, look for an anonymous or guest option.
Via Friend’s Apps: Even if you don’t download an app, Facebook’s default settings allow your friends’ apps to grab whatever info your friends can see about you. You can stop this by going to the App Settings page and clicking the Edit button under “Apps Others Use.”
Facebook launched a new Like button last month that adds emoticons, and users have been more engaged with posts since it launched. After all, it’s quick, easy and fun. But be discreet about the things you “like” on Facebook. The reason? Con artists use a process known as “like farming” to spread
malicious content on Facebook.
Here’s the drill: Scammers post something sentimental – a request for “likes” to show a bald-headed little girl battling cancer that she’s beautiful – in an effort to harvest a large number of likes and shares. The more engagement a post garners, the higher it ranks atop everyone’s news feed when it’s shared. Usually, the person in the photo doesn’t even know it’s being used this way.
Once a certain threshold is met, the scammer changes the post into something that, say, requests a credit card number. Or spreads malware. They might even sell the personal information collected from the “likes” to someone intent on using it as a means of breaking into other places that store passwords,
credit card info, etc.
The solution to thwarting these scams is simple: Stop being so likeable on Facebook.
Op/ed column submitted by Ann Nygren, President of Key Consulting Software. KCS is an IT consulting company focused on gaming and hospitality applications ranging from Agilysys (LMS/Stratton Warren/Infogenesis), Infinium (AM, AR, FA, GL, GT, HR, IR, PA, PL, PY, TR), Bally’s (CMS, CMP, ACSC & SDS), and interfaces with Aristocrat, IGT and Micros to Transitioning properties during purchase, sales, or merging of properties. KCS provides IT Departments with assistance in installation & upgrades, customization, interfacing and creation of unique client specific software. Ann can be reached at email@example.com.