Facebook Atlas: Giving Advertisers Invasive Maps of Your Life

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Katherine Albrecht (l), Liz McIntyre (r)

Kather­ine Albrecht (l),  Liz McIn­tyre ®

Face­book Atlas: Giv­ing Adver­tis­ers Inva­sive Maps of Your Life


Face­book has qui­et­ly intro­duced a new ser­vice for adver­tis­ers called “Face­book Atlas,” and we’re giv­ing it a “thumbs down” because it’s not good for your pri­va­cy.

Like an atlas, it offers a col­lec­tion of maps, but these maps show the where­abouts and activ­i­ties of Inter­net users — whether Face­book sub­scribers or not. These detailed maps are chock full of tid­bits about the online and offline lives of con­sumers — and your life is most like­ly in this col­lec­tion, whether you like it or not.people-based-marketing-image1

Face­book refers to Atlas as “Peo­ple-based mar­ket­ing,” which might lead you to think we, the peo­ple, are in charge of its map­ping process. But we’re not. Mar­keters are in charge of this new­fan­gled ini­tia­tive and most of us are com­plete­ly unaware.

You may think you can pro­tect your­self online by delet­ing cook­ies and enabling the “do not track” fea­ture in your brows­er, but Face­book Atlas has been designed to over­come these lim­i­ta­tions. In fact, it’s people’s new-found pri­va­cy con­scious­ness that’s dri­ving mar­keters to devel­op sur­veil­lance meth­ods like Atlas that are dif­fi­cult to escape from.cross-device

These days, most of us use mul­ti­ple elec­tron­ic devices to access the Inter­net, which makes it hard­er for mar­keters to track and pro­file peo­ple and their pur­chas­es. It’s also dif­fi­cult for mar­keters to gauge the suc­cess of tar­get­ed ads if they can’t fol­low up on your pur­chase behav­ior to see if the ad worked. For exam­ple, if you browse an online store with your iPhone and lat­er make a pur­chase at a brick and mor­tar store, or place an order through your tablet or desk­top com­put­er, it’s hard to link the two events.

These blind spots are frus­trat­ing to mar­keters who want to know every­thing about you. They also crave the abil­i­ty to watch those con­sumers who have the nerve to delete cook­ies or turn on “do not track” on their devices to help pro­tect their pri­va­cy.bridge-from-online

Enter ser­vices like Atlas, designed to col­lect and con­sol­i­date infor­ma­tion about every­one, no mat­ter what devices they use, what cook­ies they delete or where they choose to shop.

Atlas learns what devices peo­ple use by track­ing their sign ins to Face­book and to a net­work of part­ner sites. Then it fol­lows online activ­i­ties like ad clicks using a wide vari­ety of track­ers, includ­ing per­sis­tent cook­ies and web bea­cons that are more dif­fi­cult to delete. Atlas can also update your mar­ket­ing pro­file by record­ing search­es you do at non-pri­vate search engines and may use infor­ma­tion gleaned from “free” email ser­vices that care­ful­ly ana­lyze every mes­sage that pass­es through their servers.

Here’s a list of pos­si­ble sources they might use, straight from the company’s pri­va­cy pol­i­cy:collected-info-image1

Atlas does not hon­or “do not track” requests set in people’s browsers.

If you read through the lines of its care­ful­ly craft­ed pri­va­cy pol­i­cy, Atlas states that even if you opt out of tar­get­ed adver­tis­ing through the Net­work Adver­tis­ing Ini­tia­tive or Dig­i­tal Adver­tis­ing Alliance Con­sumer Choice Page, they’ll still track your behav­ior and store it — they just won’t serve you per­son­al­ized ads. Gee, thanks!

Check out their pol­i­cy for your­selves, foks.  It doesn’t get much more inva­sive than this:cant-opt-out1

Unfor­tu­nate­ly, Facebook’s Atlas isn’t the only com­pa­ny doing this kind of no-holds-barred con­sumer activ­i­ty map­ping. It’s the lat­est mar­ket­ing trend. But let’s face it. Face­book has a huge snoop­ing advan­tage because so many peo­ple use its social media ser­vice and often do so on mul­ti­ple devices.

Being tracked is not only offen­sive, it’s dan­ger­ous to our pri­va­cy and our civ­il lib­er­ties. Once a pri­vate com­pa­ny has your infor­ma­tion, the gov­ern­ment can get its hands on it, too.

Here are a few ways to help min­i­mize your expo­sure to these ramped up infor­ma­tion col­lec­tion schemes:

  • Think twice before using social media at all. If you pro­vide true sign-up infor­ma­tion the sites require, it could be a key to unlock­ing and link­ing con­sid­er­able infor­ma­tion about you.
  • If you choose to use social media, use just one device to sign into your account. If you log in to the same account with dif­fer­ent devices, com­pa­nies like Atlas can link your devices in their pro­fil­ing data­bas­es.
  • Switch to pri­va­cy-friend­ly ser­vices that don’t col­lect or store your per­son­al infor­ma­tion, or only use it for the pur­pose at hand. We rec­om­mend StartPage.com and Ixquick.com for pri­vate search, and StartMail.com for pri­vate email.
  • Arm your­self for the Inter­net mine­field with pri­va­cy appli­ca­tions like Ghostery. Ghostery blocks infor­ma­tion track­ers from numer­ous orga­ni­za­tions, includ­ing Face­book Atlas.
  • Accord­ing to Ghostery, if you block Atlas, any oth­er Face­book tag or any oth­er tag in its library, it keeps the infor­ma­tion from leav­ing the brows­er in the first place.
  • Only share per­son­al infor­ma­tion when absolute­ly nec­es­sary. Think twice before giv­ing any­one your real birth date, social secu­ri­ty num­ber or cred­it card. Just one bit of infor­ma­tion in the wrong hands could give a nosy orga­ni­za­tion the key to unlock­ing your whole life.