Facebook to Tell Users They Are Being Tracked
Facebook has agreed to be transparent about, well, the obvious: You are being tracked so advertisers can better aim at you, and you can opt out if you make the effort. The announcement came Monday as part of the company’s agreement with the Council of Better Business Bureau. The agreement applies to ads that are shown to Facebook users, based on what else they have browsed on the Web. Let’s say you have looked at little girls’ party dresses on an unrelated e-commerce site. When you log on to Facebook, you could be tempted with a dress that you didn’t quite buy; it might even nudge you to make the purchase “for your darling daughter.” Now, if you hover over one of those ads with your mouse, a grey-blue icon will pop up alerting you to the fact that you’re being tracked. It remains unclear whether this notification would satisfy either privacy advocates or government regulators who are pressing Web companies to make it easier for users to avoid being tracked by marketers. Jeffrey Chester of the Washington-based Center for Digital Democracy panned the new initiative as inadequate. “It’s time for Facebook to face up to informing users in clear black-and-white — not grey — about how it harvests its user information,” he said in an e-mail. You can opt out of being tracked, one ad-serving company at a time. Facebook joins with several third parties to serve you those ads, on behalf of brands. The company declined to say how many such companies it joined with, only that there were in the dozens. You can also choose to hide ads from a particular brand. Facebook has always allowed users to do this; the only change is that it will henceforth nudge you with a new icon. “At Facebook, we work hard to build transparency and control into each of our products, including our advertising offerings,” the company said in an e-mailed statement attributable to its chief privacy officer, Erin Egan. Advertising is the bread-and-butter of all Web services, including Facebook. Faced with pressure to gin up profits for its public investors, Facebook has in recent months refined its aimed advertising efforts. The company earned $5 billion in advertising revenue last year. The online ad industry wants a system of self-regulation rather than by government fiat.