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Here’s what we all know: Facebook knows a lot about you based on your time on its site — your age, your gender, where your work, your interests — and it uses that information to help companies sell you things.
Now the social network wants to also use more of its considerable knowledge of what you do when you’re not actually on Facebook.
Facebook said this week that it will soon begin using the data it collects on your use of the "like" and "share" buttons and other social widgets embedded in millions of websites and apps to better personalize the ads it shows you, starting next month.
That’s in addition to the information Facebook already puts towards ads, such as your web-surfing habits, your profile details and your activity inside its digital walls.
"We hope that the ads people see will continue to become more useful and relevant and that this new control will make it easier for people to have the ads experience they want," wrote Stephen Deadman, Facebook’s global deputy chief privacy officer, in a blog post.
If you assumed that Facebook was already doing this, it may be because the company first announced the undertaking more than a year ago and has been busily stockpiling information on your web-surfing habits for years in anticipation.
Not to mention that it’s generally a safe bet that any public interaction with a Facebook product will be tallied away for advertising purposes.
Facebook began farming out the embeddable "like" button to publishers in 2010. Tucked inside the feature was a snippet of code instructing every site visitor’s browser to telegraph their presence to the social network’s servers — effectively giving Facebook a log of your web history.
The company was already embroiled in controversy over its privacy policies, and the flood of new data being collected immediately raised the hackles of consumer rights advocates.
But Facebook continued stashing away the data regardless, and then, last summer, it finally announced that the data would be shoveled into its advertising algorithms.
A Facebook spokesperson is quick to point out that the data collection is no different than the trackers most major websites employ to trace their visitors’ web habits.
Frustration with these hidden functions is a driving force behind the surging popularity of ad blocking software.
If you’re uncomfortable with Facebook’s hyper-targeting, the good news is that you can opt out of the ads based on website or apps visits on the settings page under the "ads" tab.
There’s also a panel where you can view and edit the profile of interests that Facebook uses to target your ads.
But as the Electric Frontier Foundation’s Rainey Reitman points out, the opt-out option does not stop Facebook from still collecting this data.
Putting an end to that would require a service like Ghostery that shields your browser from hidden trackers.
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