Facebook location-tracking for ads has no off switch

JC Torres - Dec 19, 2018, 12:32 am CST
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Facebook location-tracking for ads has no off switch

Just when you thought Facebook couldn’t sink any lower, a new discovery might have just added one more nail to its coffin. Then again, it’s really no surprise and Facebook doesn’t at all concerned about keeping it a secret. It turns out that even after you’ve turned off all possible location-tracking features and removed all location data on Facebook, you’ll still get ads related to your location. What makes it worse, however, is that the social networking giant doesn’t and probably won’t provide a way for users to opt out completely.

There are various ways Facebook can collect location data, which is arguably one of the most valuable pieces of data it can get for advertising purposes. There’s location history when you check into places, the location information you put in your profile, location metadata from photos you upload and, in case of smartphones, the location data taken from GPS and such. All of those above can be turned off at will, though sometimes it also involves not uploading photos. It turns out, however, there’s a hidden setting you can’t turn off.

USC Computer Science associate professor Aleksandra Korolova blogged her findings after noticing she still received ads related to where she lived, where she worked, and places she’s visited. That despite having taken all the necessary precautions above. It turns out, Facebook still tracks users’ locations when they connect to the Internet via IP addresses and Wi-Fi and Bluetooth data. In other words, pieces of data any Internet-connected device has by necessity.

Facebook doesn’t actually make it a secret but users would never know about it unless they already know where to look. This fact, however, is openly available and known to, of course, Facebook advertising partners. There is, however, also no way to turn it off, as Facebook itself reportedly admits. In other words, as long as you connect to the Internet and log into Facebook, Facebook will always know where you are. And so will advertisers.

It’s unknown if Facebook will change its policy at this point, though it could hardly change the underlying system without irking advertisers and companies. Given its current situation, it could probably do with a less drama and scrutiny. Until then, there’s no escaping this Facebook tracking short of not using Facebook, which a lot of people are doing anyway for other reasons.


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