We’ve all had that feeling that we are being spied on. Someone mentions an obscure brand of beer and within a day we are seeing adverts for it.
Paranoia or coincidence?
Well, it could be a coincidence. We see hundreds of adverts a day online and our brain tends to ‘ignore’ most; that beer advert could have been there all along and we just hadn’t noticed it. However, Facebook and other advertising companies spend a lot of time and effort finding out what we are interested in and feeding us adverts that they think might appeal to us.
Most people know that Meta has plenty of methods of tracking our interests via its platforms, such as Facebook and Instagram, from the pages we follow, the videos we watch, who we are friends with and the posts we like and share.
A smaller group know that Facebook also gets information from elsewhere to help them build up their profile of you, so even if you rarely use the platform, they are still getting information about you via other means. What is less well known is just how far that data collection goes.
Now, however, using a feature that Facebook hides away and keeps quiet about, you can see just how many sources of information they have. The results may leave you rather shocked.
Following the Cambridge Analytica scandal back in 2018, Mark Zuckerberg promised to be more transparent about where all Facebook’s data was coming from. Well, it took a while and it might not be as all-encompassing as it could be, but Facebook did eventually release a feature called ‘Off-Facebook activity’. This feature shows you the sources of its tracking information on you and allows you to clear it.
I haven’t seen that?
No, you probably haven’t. It hasn’t been marketed to you as strongly as the obscure beer brand, if at all. It is there, but very hidden away under multiple menu items. To save you some time, here is a direct link to it – https://www.facebook.com/off_facebook_activity/
So, what will I see?
It only shows you data collected in the last 180 days, and maybe that is scarier. For me, it showed 537 different websites and apps that had happily feed information to Facebook about my interests, politics, health, shopping habits and everything in between. The information from one website alone wouldn’t tell you too much about me, but put it all together and Facebook knows just about everything I have shown an interest in during the last six months. They only show six months, but will also have a record of all of my interests going back years that I can’t see or delete.
I don’t remember giving websites permission to share with Facebook
You probably didn’t. Although all websites and apps under GDPR within Europe must ask for your explicit consent before sharing your data, several still don’t.
In 2023, Google has announced it will join Safari and Firefox in blocking third-party cookies (see our article on what this means). The government also announced that they planned to do away with ‘annoying cookie consent pop-ups’, although no details of what this would mean or when this might become law have been announced.
At AB, we recommend that clients use the OneTrust cookie consent system to detail which cookies are being used and requiring that consent is given before placing a cookie on the browser.
We do this for two reasons. One is to ensure that website users are given an informed choice over their privacy and secondly, so that website owners can avoid breaking GDPR law and leaving themselves open to fines or being sued over privacy violations.
If you are concerned that your company website may not be complying with GDPR regulations, give us a call at AB and we can discuss how we can help you.
Author: Paul Wright
Paul is a Senior Developer with 25 years experience of maintaining and developing software for various blue chip companies in the UK and overseas. He specialises in building user-friendly bespoke CMS systems, data and system migration and building API’s that work with back office systems & legacy software. Outside work, Paul spends his time running, cycling or buried in a good book.