Facebook says it will track websites, apps you use — because you asked for it

You asked for it!  You got it.
You asked for it! You got it.

“We’re improving ads based on apps and sites you use, and giving you more control,” says the notice I received this morning from Facebook. Uh oh.  Any time a company says they are giving me “more control,” I  know something bad is happening. When did I lose control?

I clicked and read so you don’t have to.  They very first sentence of the announcement pushed Facebook to the edge of credibility.

“When we ask people about our ads, one of the top things they tell us is that they want to see adds that are more relevant.”

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Yes, I’m sure a billion Earthlings have long been troubled by the need for more relevant Facebook ads. It’s a conversation I would often have with people on the street, immediately following, “Your dog is cute!” or “I think it might rain!”  Well, wait no more, Facebookers.  The social media giant, in its abundant generosity, has solved this problem for you.

“Starting soon, in the US, we will (learn about your interests) from some of the websites and apps you use,”  says an announcement I received today.

Really? Facebook doesn’t already know enough about us from all the things we do on Facebook? Now it will learn about us while watching everything else we do on the Internet.

Facebook didn’t have to do it, and didn’t want to do it. But users DEMANDED it!!  At least, that’s how the notice I received makes it sound. Please, Facebook, track the apps I use on my phone; watch what websites I visit, the firm heard from someone.  Was it you? It wasn’t me.

If you haven’t already seen the announcement, you will soon. You might assume Facebook already knows a lot about what you are doing when you are “cheating” on the social media service, using other Net tools.  And you are right. All those “like”  buttons communicate a lot to Facebook.  But now the firm is giving itself overt permission to watch you wherever you go.

Note the “in the US” portion of the announcement. Lucky US! Pesky privacy rules are, so far, preventing Facebook from trying anything like this in Europe.  Those Euros are losing out. Sure,  give ’em the World Cup. We now get relevant ads!  I imagine Americans will now surpass many Europeans on that quality of life index the OECD issues. 

To blunt the force of this announcement, Facebook has been improving some of its privacy controls lately. It is easier now to make sure updates are shown to a more limited audience, with a more obvious privacy button available when users post.  Facebook also plans to improve its “about this ad” feature, making it easier for users to opt out of certain advertising categories, according to this story on AdAge.

Cold comfort. Just once, I’d love to see a privacy-related notice from a company that doesn’t sound like it was written by George Orwell as an example of Newsspeak.  Like this: Hey, in order to keep the lights on, we have to make skeptical advertisers happy, so we’re extending our reach into your lives. Many of you don’t really care, but for those who do, here are the 8-steps to minimizing our reach.”

Advertising is a fact of life. We wouldn’t have many things we love — journalism and TV, for example — without it.  But doesn’t Facebook already know enough about us?

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About Bob Sullivan 1319 Articles
BOB SULLIVAN is a veteran journalist and the author of four books, including the 2008 New York Times Best-Seller, Gotcha Capitalism, and the 2010 New York Times Best Seller, Stop Getting Ripped Off! His latest, The Plateau Effect, was published in 2013, and as a paperback, called Getting Unstuck in 2014. He has won the Society of Professional Journalists prestigious Public Service award, a Peabody award, and The Consumer Federation of America Betty Furness award, and been given Consumer Action’s Consumer Excellence Award.