Facebook to let advertisers see where you're surfing

Filed Under: Facebook, Featured, Privacy

Facebook ad optionsRemember back in 2011, when Mark Zuckerberg dissed Google, Yahoo and Microsoft for following you around on the web, using browser cookies to collect a huge amount of information about who you are "behind your back"?

Yes. Right. Well. Ahem.

Facebook's going to do that. Except it won't be behind our backs.

Facebook announced on Thursday that it's giving advertisers more ammunition to target users, by mixing data about what we do on its site with data about what we do on other sites.

In other words, like many other services, it's going to follow its users around, and its advertising will reflect that.

Did you visit Cars.com, looking for a new set of wheels? Don't be surprised if Facebook splashes car ads at you.

Up until now, Facebook ads have mostly been generated from what we do on the site, whether we've liked a brand's page or shared a funny ad.

But while advertisers will also now be able to mix in data about what we do off of Facebook, the social network also announced that its users will get a way to turn off whatever completely irrelevant ads for iPhone apps, tropical vacations, tanning salons or whatever they're seeing now or in the new, tweaked future.

Users will also be able to change, add or delete information in Facebook's dossiers of the likes and interests it keeps on users.

We'll be able to do that with a new tool to indicate ad preferences.

To tell Facebook what you think of a particular ad, you'll be able to click on the top right-hand corner of the ad, and click or tap on "Why am I seeing this ad?"

This ad is useful

From there, Facebook will show you a list of what it thinks your interests are.

If you've been shopping for TVs, for example, Facebook might have listed "electronics" as an interest in your dossier.

If you're not all that into electronics, you'll be able to delete it from your list of interests.

Facebook also targets us with ads that have nothing to do with our interests. That's because, it says, advertisers sometimes want to reach broad categories of people - say, people living in your city who are between the ages of 18 and 29.

If you don't want to see a particular ad, you can tell Facebook that, or you can choose the option of hiding all ads from a given advertiser.

Hide all from this advertiser

You can also visit the Digital Advertising Alliance website and opt out, which should stop the websites you visit from being added to the mix when Facebook determines what ads to show you.

Alas, it has no option on Facebook for "Don't show me any ads at all", but that's no surprise, given that the social network is an advertising-fueled service.

The Facebook ad preferences tool will be available on every Facebook ad, eventually. Facebook's rolling it out in the US in the next few weeks, and it says it's "working hard to expand globally" in the coming months.

None of this will matter much, I'm sure, to our readers who won't touch Facebook (there are quite a few!) because of privacy implications.

To those of you who do still dabble in the Book of Face, what do you think of the new advertising model? Is the thought of Facebook reading over your shoulder when you're surfing the internet intrusive?

Or do you welcome the new transparency into your advertising dossier and the new ability to edit it?

Or if you're on Facebook, you might swing on by the Naked Security page, like it, and tell us your thoughts, while you're actually swimming in the Facebook soup, as it were!

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32 Responses to Facebook to let advertisers see where you're surfing

  1. Sammie · 482 days ago

    I wonder if I visit forums and search for 'How to close my FB account', will FB show me ads on the advantages of closing down my account with video on how to do it efficiently? Also is it worth asking FB to part with a share of profits they make by selling your information. The more FB you use, the more you get paid.

  2. It will be interesting to see how Facebook actually implement this.

    Since you can opt-out of the web tracking part at the DAA my guess is that they'll be using a third party ad provider that already has infrastructure for tracking you around the web (via sites that share the ad company's 3rd party cookies).

    Facebook also has its own infrastructure - the Like buttons on websites - to create a home grown solution.

    How they implement it might make a difference to the data Facebook actually gets its hands on. If they use a 3rd party provider they'll probably only find out what you're interested in but if they build it themselves they can out a great deal more.

  3. To be honest this doesn't bother me all that much. I'd far rather have targeted ads that I might actually be interested in, than ads that are irrelevant and annoying. So long as this data is release to the general public, and is only used by the companies they say it will be used by I'm fine with it.

  4. Faceblock · 482 days ago

    The avariciousness of facebook never ceases to amaze.

    I am also getting increasingly annoyed by the way that some organisations (such as the BBC) seem to have facebook as their preferred means of communication and email addresses seem to be just disappearing in some areas. This means that a British tax-payer licence-fee funded organisation is effectively promoting facebook - probably for free!

    The more I read about facebook the less I want to do with it. Has anyone published a means to do a totally locked down minimal interaction facebook account which could be used only for communicating with the likes of the BBC? Ideally some form of browser addin that can keep up with facebook's endless "innovations" in the field of privacy theft.

    • Steve Neal · 482 days ago

      should have added, I use a .css file as described in the link

  5. JR · 482 days ago

    Just use AdBlock.

    • Chuck · 482 days ago

      Yes. Adblock and noscript. I also use Sandboxie and I delete the sandbox before and after each login to Facebook, so there is no possibility of anything escaping that session.

    • I installed it about 15 minutes ago. :)

  6. And the opt-out page is useless. out of 120 advertisers listed, 116 of them refuse or ignore the out-out requests.

  7. LindaB · 482 days ago

    Yet another good reason for not being on Facebook then. You can' trust them in my opinion. It's all about them making even more money from what you do with no benefit to you, the user.

  8. Ronifae · 482 days ago

    I rebel with two addons - Adblock Plus and Ghostery, and only keep cookies for a few, select sites. The heck with Zucker's billions.

  9. I ignore all the ads now. I'm pretty sure there are lot of people that do the same. I don't even know what the last YouTube ad was about. I kind of zone out waiting for that skip ad option and if it's not there, I check to see how much time I've got before the video starts to make a cup of tea.

    • Jakob Nielsen used to write about 'banner blindness' where users would simply stop paying attention to banner ads. It wasn't concious, people got used to the idea that certain shapes in certain locations on web pages have nothing of value in them so their brains start blotting them out.

      He thought that banner blindness was behind a predictable, year-on-year fall in advertising click through rates. In turn that decline led to ever more outrageous and intrusive ad formats.

  10. Anonymous · 482 days ago

    This article is speaking like that is a new thing, where as I have been seeing 'targeted' ads from my browsing history for over a year....

    • Lisa Vaas · 482 days ago

      They've targeted ads based on what you do within Facebook itself—Like pages, share stuff. The new part is they plan to follow people around after they've left Facebook. Mind you, you can opt out.

  11. I am of the opinion that Facebook has no business to track their users' browsing activity beyond their service. Zuckerberg and gang are getting greedier and greedier, and greed is blinding their sense of ethics and morals!
    There was a time when Facebook users were consulted before changes were made to features. All that has gone out the door now.
    If this nonsense continues I might just decide to give Facebook the finger and leave. Disgusting !!

  12. David R · 482 days ago

    WTF? So I can opt-out of what kinds of ads I see, but I can't prevent websites I visit from looking at one another's cookies?! How bogus is that?

    The problem isn't the ads! The problem is how they're targeting us!

    • You can stop it.

      Plugins like Ghostery will stop it dead and all browsers allow you to control what cookies you don't and don't get.

  13. Angie · 482 days ago

    I tried option out at the DAA website, but when it was finished the report said only 8 out of 112 "participating" websites were opted out of.

    • leo from Chicago · 480 days ago

      I tried opting out as well -- with equally disappointing results. But what would you expect? The presence of this bogus tool allows FB (and indeed some commentators here) to claim there is an opt-out feature. But of course, this is what you get when the advertisers put the tool together themselves.


  14. Anonymous · 482 days ago

    Since they're ad financed it would be against their best interest to offer me the honest options- " advertising has an adverse impact on my shopping choices" , "I do not trust advertised offers", "I only shop on-line if forced to","any advertising limiting my screen view, degrades it's products value- even ifI used to love and promote it"

  15. Adam · 482 days ago

    Opting out is pretty much worthless, even if

    a) You only use a small number of computers (since you have to opt-out on all of them to get the cookie)

    b) you never clear your cookies

    c) sites participate and actually pay attention to your preferences.

    NoScript and Ghostery are helpful, but this is just another knife in the back of online privacy.

  16. pamelajaye · 482 days ago

    Facebook said we could... adjust this on Android using Android controls but did not elaborate. What did they mean?
    Facebook is free to advertise TV shows at me (though not the same show six times a day. Once a day, no spoilers, 3 on premiere day.) Especially since Nielsen doesn't count me, maybe networks will notice

  17. What FB should do is offer a "Premium Service", for a fee, you can have total privacy and security without "opting in\out" along with all of the other things that FB users complain about. Then the free "service" you get blasted with whatever they want to do to you because it's free.

  18. Dave Miller · 482 days ago

    The opt-out site says I have to enable third-party cookies to opt-out. I'm guessing that means they also need third-party cookies enabled to track me to begin with. That probably means I've effectively already opted out (way more efectively than their cookie) by having third-party cookies disabled in my browser, but they won't tell you that.

  19. John · 481 days ago

    If you want online privacy, why would you use Facebook? Its whole premise is that you share information about yourself with others, and they share with you. And I've never had any problem communicating with the BBC via email or web form.

  20. Online privacy. Hilarious. Like believing in the tooth fairy.

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About the author

I've been writing about technology, careers, science and health since 1995. I rose to the lofty heights of Executive Editor for eWEEK, popped out with the 2008 crash, joined the freelancer economy, and am still writing for my beloved peeps at places like Sophos's Naked Security, CIO Mag, ComputerWorld, PC Mag, IT Expert Voice, Software Quality Connection, Time, and the US and British editions of HP's Input/Output. I respond to cash and spicy sites, so don't be shy.