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Facebook Trackers: Ad Targeting or Spying
Posted In: Technology Articles  9/12/12
By: David Martinez

Facebook-Spying_1.jpg
Facebook really is watching your every move online.

In testing out a new diagnostic tool called Abine DNT+, we noticed that Facebook has more than 200 "trackers" watching our internet activity.

Abine defines trackers as "a request that a webpage tries to make your browser perform that will share information intended to record, profile, or share your online activity." The trackers come in the shape of cookies, JavaScript, 1-pixel beacons, and Iframes.

Cookies are tiny bits of software that web pages drop onto your device that identify you anonymously but nonetheless signal useful behavior about your background interests to advertisers who might want to target you.

Critics call this spying. Advertisers call it targeting.

In an email to Business Insider, Abine privacy analyst Sarah Downey explained why users should pay more attention to trackers, and block them:

In addition to invading your privacy, these tracking requests can consume large amounts of data.  And transferring lots of data takes time. Generally, the more tracking requests on a website, the slower that website loads. That's why DNT+ gets you surfing at 125% of the normal speed and with 90% of the bandwidth, compared to a browser without DNT+ running.

Equipped with this insight, an inquisitive Facebook user might be wondering why they wouldn't block all trackers and cookies alike. With a slightly harsh tone, the Facebook page cautions:

Technologies like cookies, pixel tags ("pixels"), and local storage are used to deliver, secure, and understand products, services, and ads, on and off Facebook. Your browser or device may allow you to block these technologies, but you may not be able to use some features on Facebook if you block them.

There is certainly truth to this statement, not all cookies are used for tracking. Many are simply placed in order to store information for later use. But it is the broader scope of "requests" that present the larger issue. In simple terms, Downey explained that when you navigate to a website, your browser constructs that site by communicating back and forth with the server where the site information is stored. These communications are the “requests.”  

But it isn't just the website you are visiting that makes requests for information: online trackers from other companies hidden on the site do it, too. They act as third parties on your computer: you can't see them without privacy software, you probably wouldn't expect them to be present, and you probably don't intend to share your information with them.

They request information like your geographic location, which other sites you’ve visited, what you click, and your Facebook username.

In terms of what the "requests" represent, Facebook declined to comment because, in their opinion, the requests do not mean much unless you can see exactly what they are and how they are used. Facebook's entire site is run off of JavaScript and other such tags that have an array of purposes.

Source: Business Insider


 

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