Facebook Increases its Tracking Reach with Atlas, and Users Have Little Choice About It

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NOTE:  The Elec­tron­ic Fron­tier Foun­da­tion (EFF) has been in the fore­front of defend­ing the civ­il lib­er­ties of Amer­i­cans in the dig­i­tal envi­ron­ment since 1990. In the fol­low­ing arti­cle you will find an EFF free prod­uct offer to assist in fight­ing back against non­con­sen­su­al track­ing of your brows­ing. Please under­stand Agenda21News.com has no busi­ness or per­son­al rela­tion­ship with EFF, and any deci­sion on your part to accept their free prod­uct offer is yours, and yours alone, to make. A21N is mak­ing no judge­ment, or offer­ing any endorse­ment, of this product.

Update (10/2/14): Face­book request­ed and we agreed to add that many of the prob­lems we list in our post are indus­try-wide issues, from col­lec­tion of users’ brows­ing habits, to the col­lec­tion of con­sumer pur­chase infor­ma­tion for “con­ver­sion track­ing,” to offer­ing an “opt out” that does not pro­tect con­sumers against the col­lec­tion and reten­tion of data. We encour­age Face­book to join com­pa­nies like Pin­ter­est, Twit­ter, and Medi­um in stop­ping col­lec­tion of data from users’ brows­ing habits when Do Not Track is enabled.

Face­book expand­ed its ever-grow­ing adver­tis­ing and track­ing reach this week with new inte­gra­tion between the giant social net­work and Atlas, an adver­tis­ing plat­form it pur­chased from Microsoft. The com­pa­ny now lets adver­tis­ers tar­get you across all of your devices and on par­tic­i­pat­ing web­sites, based on char­ac­ter­is­tics from your Face­book pro­file such as age, gen­der, and loca­tion. It will also attempt to track the prod­ucts you buy both online and off, in order to mea­sure the ads’ effects on our purchases.


You can fight back against nonconsensual tracking by installing Privacy Badger today.


As a user, the indus­try offers you no sim­ple options to pro­tect your­self against this intru­sive data col­lec­tion, whether for adver­tis­ing pur­pos­es or not, most par­tic­u­lar­ly because Atlas and Face­book do not cur­rent­ly respect Do Not Track. When you enable Do Not Track in your brows­er, it sends a clear sig­nal to sites that you don’t want your brows­ing habits to be col­lect­ed; it’s up to com­pa­nies to heed this request. But with the data it gets from “Like” but­tons on sites across the Web and through these new forms of ad track­ing, Face­book knows what its users are doing all of the time. And if the com­pa­ny sees users enable Do Not Track but con­tin­ues its Web-wide col­lec­tion of their read­ing habits, it is clear­ly doing so with­out their consent.

Atlas uses the adver­tis­ing indus­try’s pho­ny def­i­n­i­tion of “opt out,” which has the unfor­tu­nate char­ac­ter­is­tic of mean­ing “pre­tend not to track” and offers no pri­va­cy ben­e­fits what­so­ev­er. While you may think you are opt­ing out of a large data col­lec­tion scheme by, as Atlas expects you to do, accept­ing an opt-out cook­ie, the plat­form will mere­ly stop serv­ing you tar­get­ed ads. The adver­tis­ing indus­try’s “opt out” does not require com­pa­nies to stop col­lect­ing data about you or your read­ing habits across the Web.

Opt­ing users out of tar­get­ed ads while still col­lect­ing infor­ma­tion about them is the worst of both worlds: it destroys all the poten­tial use­ful­ness of adver­tise­ments and simul­ta­ne­ous­ly reduces the trans­paren­cy of data col­lec­tion prac­tices to con­sumers. If any­thing, tar­get­ed ads at least let users know their infor­ma­tion has been col­lect­ed in the first place.

EFF calls upon Face­book to start hon­or­ing user requests to opt out from their third-par­ty track­ing, both across the Web and on mobile devices. We are also work­ing on a new pro­pos­al called dnt-policy.txt for a sim­ple way that sites can com­mit to respect­ing their users’ pri­va­cy. This mech­a­nism will allow tools like Pri­va­cy Bad­gerDis­con­nect, and oth­er pri­va­cy pro­tec­tion soft­ware to know (and act upon) the dif­fer­ence between adver­tis­ers who respect the prin­ci­ple of con­sent to track­ing, and those that don’t.