20 Questions On How Facebook Tracking Actually Works

Hello Pamelo, I am writing this blog post about how Facebook tracking and marketing works just for you 🙂 I hope it will help you and any others who have concerns about how Facebook in particular tracks our behaviour. Love you <3

April 2020

It’s an anxious time and many people are feeling out control. It inspires us to try and take back the power in little ways, but often it doesn’t actually amount to very much. In an attempt to try and help this, I have created the blog post to shed some light on how Facebook tracking actually works. This way you can REALLY decide if you want to be a part of SkyNet or not 😉

1. What Technologies Does Facebook Own?

Many people set their sights on combating Facebook security settings or technologies. What many people don’t realise is that Facebook owns a number of technologies, including Whatsapp and Instagram.

Our main services include the Facebook app, Messenger, Instagram, WhatsApp, Oculus, Workplace, Portal and Calibra. – Facebook (Source: Facebook) 

Facebook bought Instagram for $1bn (£760m) in 2012, and WhatsApp for $19bn in 2014.” (Source: BBC News)

This means you are sending them data points from a number of services.

2. Does Facebook Know Who I Am?

Short answer: Yes. Long answer:

There’s a general fear about Facebook personally tracking you – as in, your name, your age and other personal information. When you sign up for Facebook you GAVE them this information. So they are not tracking it, per se, because you already gave it to them upon sign up (for free nogal!).

3. Is My Data Public?

Yes and no. Yes – anyone can look you up and see if you’re on Facebook. It’s called Facebook stalking, I’m sure you’ve tried it from time to time 😉

No. It is illegal for Facebook to sell your personal data to third parties, (hence the Cambridge Analytica scandal, which revealed third party apps, that allowed users to use the Facebook app to login into their sites/apps, were actually stealing your personal data).

No, we don’t sell your information. Instead, based on the information we have, advertisers and other partners pay us to show you personalized ads on the Facebook family of apps and technologies. – Facebook (Source: Facebook)

4. Why Does Facebook Gather My Data?

If Burger King wanted to advertise a new hamburger on Facebook, how could they if they didn’t have any information about their users? (I personally find billboards on the highway a far great waste of advertising space with their spray & pray approach! Half those ads don’t even apply to me! What a waste of money!)

For example, if they were to advertise Whoppers to vegans, that would create negative press by offending many users. Facebook, therefore, uses data points to ensure ads are relevant to you as a user.

5. What Does Facebook Do With My Data?

Facebook users your data to improve your experience on the service. This includes “selling” data points to advertisers to assist them with their advertising.

For example, I want to advertise Mirror Moon Eco Glitter in Cape Town. As an advertiser, how will you know if people are in Cape Town? Because Facebook knows where it’s users are and you will be able to select Cape Town as an option for your adverts.

This is the same if you’re boosting a Facebook event – you would expect to reach relevant audience members and not just anyone. That has to happen somehow!

6. Is Facebook Tracking My Behaviour?

Yes. As mentioned, data points are used to gather information about you, which Facebook will then use to send articles, videos, news stories and adverts that are relevant to you while you use the platform.

Here’s an example of the first 4 ads I received today, they are all relevant in some way or another because a) I’m a Vodacom customer. b) I work on Facebook every day. c) I use couriers to buy clothing from ASOS. d) I love both chocolate and ice cream so I ain’t mad at this ad, LOL!

They can also track your “real life” behaviour when you tell them where you are by checking into airports, clubs, events, etc.

7. Can I Control This?

Yes you can. Since the Cambridge Analytica scandal Facebook has been making an effort to create more transparency and data security on the social media network.

If, for example, you get content that you do not like, it’s is up to YOU to feedback to Facebook. They are, after all, just a “robot”.

You can do this by clicking on the top 3 circles on the top right corner and a menu will drop down. You will then be able to feedback on why you do not like the advert (Report ad) or learn more about why you are seeing (Why am I Seeing this Ad?) and this will adjust your algorithm.

8. Can Facebook Show Me Ads Off Facebook?

Yes – and not from the 1st of Feb as this latest update says, “Many of you prob don’t know that over the past 8 weeks facebook has been monitoring & tracking what you do when you’re offline and not on Facebook.” But from at least as far back as 2014 when they launched Audience Network. (Source: Facebook)

9. What is the Audience Network?

Facebook owns a platform called Audience Network, which hosts advertising space on websites OUTSIDE Facebook. If you are on those websites, Facebook will be able to track you and show you adverts built from within Facebook.

If you have ever run an ad on Facebook and used automatic placements, it is likely your ads were shown on the Audience Network.

10. How Can Facebook Track Me On Third Party Sites?

Facebook has a piece of code called the Facebook pixel (for website behaviour) or the Facebook SDK (in app behaviour).

WEBSITE OWNERS (not Facebook), can add this to their website. The third party brand installs the code and this sends information back to Facebook. Here you can see it on the Mirror Moon website:

Read more about this from the Product Management Director of Facebook answering more questions from congress here.

11. Can I See If Websites Have the Facebook Pixel on their Site?

Yep! There’s a chrome extension called Facebook Pixel Helper that’s FREE! Anyone can download it, add it to their browser and see if there’s a pixel on a particular website.

12. What’s The Point of the Facebook Pixel?

Facebook’s business model works on relevancy. The more relevant an ad is to you, the less the advertiser pays. How they gauge this relevancy is based on the content YOU engage with on your timeline, on external websites (tracked by the pixel), within apps (Facebook SDK), etc.

NO ONE wants to see ads or content that doesn’t appeal to them.

 

13. How Do Sites Track My Behaviour If I Do NOT Have a Facebook Account?

Brands can’t tell whether a user has a personal Facebook account or not. The brand will install the pixel or the SDK (for apps) on their website and track user behaviour whether the user has Facebook or not.

For example, Zoom. It’s exploded during the lockdown and has the FB pixel installed according to Vice. (Source: Vice). Even if the user DOES NOT HAVE a FB account, the SDK can still send information back to Facebook (the business) such as the device used to download the app, whether the app was opened, where the app was opened, etc. It is the responsibility of Zoom to protect their users’ data by following FB’s data protection laws.

14. Who Is Responsible for the Tracking? Facebook or the Brand?

Zoom got some hate, removed the SDK from their site and passed the buck,

“Zoom takes its users’ privacy extremely seriously. We originally implemented the ‘Login with Facebook’ feature using the Facebook SDK in order to provide our users with another convenient way to access our platform. However, we were recently made aware that the Facebook SDK was collecting unnecessary device data,” Zoom told Motherboard in a statement on Friday.

This is a cop out because Zoom installed the technology, not Facebook. They knew exactly what they were doing, that’s why they installed the SDK, yet they’re saying Facebook was collecting information. Um no, YOU were collecting the information hence why you made the option to login with Facebook an option.

SDK’s ONLY track app event data within an app, NOT behavioural data from within Facebook. The brands send the data to Facebook, not the other way around.

15. Why Does Facebook Allow Advertisers To Use This Tech?

Business doesn’t grow on trees. It costs millions to keep Facebook going and that money has to come from somewhere.

Unless we want to pay to use Facebook there’s no other way to for the network to exist without money coming from somewhere. (This is the same with Google, YouTube, etc.)

16. Does Facebook Have Any Advertising Standards?

Loads actually. They have a strict list of things that can and can’t be advertised on the site, they have strict creative stipulations as well audience protection such as advertisers needing to declare political ads, housing ads, financial t’s & c’s and who is paying for them.

Ultimately, Facebook can only control their technology – not the people who try to use it. Having said that, if an the advertiser does not follow best practices or spams users, Facebook will prohibit the amount of people the ad can reach, turn the ads off entirely or even block the advertiser for abusing the service.

17. Is Personal User Information Available to Marketers?

Absolutely not. At no point can an advertiser access any personal or private information gathered via Facebook.

The only time advertisers will have customer information is when THEY (the advertiser) uploads an e-mail list of users names (or the like) into Facebook to run ads to those audiences.

User data is only available in terms of behaviour such as people who like hamburgers, people based in various cities or countries, age groups or people who watched an advertiser’s video – and never their ACTUAL names, it’s just a number of people in an audience.

Regulations for the management of data is now legally required within Europe, with many campaign managers taking the EU’s GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) test in order to be certified (myself included).

18. What Else Is Facebook Tracking?

This depends on how much information YOU GIVE THEM. Checking in at airports? Now Facebook knows. Clicked Attending at an event? Now Facebook knows you’re there. Using the Facebook app to log in or sign up for other apps? Now Facebook knows you use that app. Reached a milestone in your life and uploaded it to Facebook? Now they know because YOU gave it to them!

19. What About Google?

Yep, Google is doing all the same. Think of any website you’ve ever been on – Google knows. Gmail? You’ve given them your personal information like gender and age…Saved “Home” or “Work” to Google maps? Now Google knows EXACTLY where you live. Watching YouTube? Google knows EXACTLY what you’ve watched and for how long…

 

20. Should I Turn Off My Off-Facebook Activity?

It’s really up to you, but I don’t personally think it’s a long term solution.

This blog was inspired by a post I saw this week on Facebook where users can turn off their Off-Facebook activity. Off-Facebook activity pertains to all the sites you visited that had an active Facebook pixel.

Remember the Mirror Moon pixel above? By turning off the off-facebook activity, you will be stopping this website gathering your behaviour (actions you take on the site).

So if you genuinely like eco friendly glitter, you have made it more difficult to get a Mirror Moon advert on Facebook, which seems silly to me. I WANT those 10% discount ads!

Turning this off doesn’t stop Facebook gathering data about your behaviour, it just stops the websites who were tracking your behaviour from using it.

They can, however, still run ads to users who like their page so you may get the ads. Or if you’ve engaged with other glitter content within Facebook, the ads will hopefully pick that up and still reach you.

Turning off your Off Facebook activity will:

  • Clear your history of all the sites you’ve visited in the past that had a pixel.
  • Kick you out of all the apps you’ve used Facebook to login with (for eg. Instagram).
  • Decrease the relevance of the ads you see, but won’t stop the ads.
  • It won’t delete any of the data you’ve already shared with the apps & FB.
  • Won’t stop Facebook’s knowing your behaviour, will just stop third party sites using it.
  • If, at any point, you log into an app with Facebook again, you will be giving that data over again.

8 Tips To Control What You Share With Facebook

  1. Stop using Facebook apps to log into 3rd party sites.
  2. Delete Facebook entirely.
  3. Stop using Whatsapp (but remember China owns WeChat so pick your side).
  4. Stop using Instagram…
  5. Educate yourself…
  6. Check your privacy settings all the time to ensure what you’re sharing is ok with you.
  7. Hide ads you don’t like.
  8. Report articles that are fake news or offensive.

In Closing…

It’s important to know how these things work so that if we want to lobby for stricter data rules, we know what we’re talking about.

Also, our children and grandchildren will be using these networks so it’s important to educate yourself on the capabilities and how much you can guard.

Education is the only way to have a decent understanding of how the internet works as a whole. This includes browsers like Bing, Internet Explorer or social networks like TikTok, SnapChat, etc. As long as you have a mobile or a computer, you’re a part of the network whether you like it not.

Learn as much as you can – most of it is free!

Good luck 🙂
Meg

 

 

 

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