The Wall Street Journal published an article recently that examines why many users feel as if they’re still being tracked by Facebook despite the company’s recent privacy measures.
In an article titled “Why It Still Feels Like Facebook Is Tracking You, Even After All the Privacy Measures,” the Journal notes that despite Facebook working to give users more control over their personal information and privacy, many users still feel as if the social media giant is tracking their online activities.
The Journal notes that Facebook has spent a significant amount of time telling users that they have control over their own data and even streamlining their own privacy settings to make data management easier, but still many feel as if they’re being tracked. The Journal writes:
I tested my suspicion by downloading the What to Expect pregnancy app. I didn’t so much as share an email address, yet in less than 12 hours, I got a maternity-wear ad in my Instagram feed. I’m not pregnant, nor otherwise in a target market for maternity-wear. When I tried to retrace the pathway, discussing the issue with the app’s publisher, its data partners, the advertiser and Facebook itself—dozens of emails and phone calls—not one would draw a connection between the two events. Often, they suggested I ask one of the other parties.
Within 12 hours of downloading a pregnancy app, this maternity-brand ad appeared on Instagram.
The Journal writer notes that despite taking multiple active measures to prevent Facebook tracking their data, it seems almost impossible to escape the social media giant’s gaze in 2019.
Everyday Health Group, which owns What to Expect, said it has no business relationship with Hatch, the maternity brand whose ad I received. Facebook initially said there could be any number of reasons I might have seen the ad—but that downloading the app couldn’t be one of them.
What I’ve learned is that our ability to control ad tracking is limited and that much of what Facebook claims should come with lengthy footnotes. As my colleague Sam Schechner demonstrated, app developers aren’t doing us any favors. They share personal data with Facebook—down to when a woman is ovulating—without adequately disclosing they’re doing so.
“We want people to understand how ads work and use our controls, which we’re simplifying and making clearer. We also believe the transparency and controls we offer lead in the ad industry,” said Joe Osborne, a Facebook spokesperson.
The Journal states that Facebook explained why the journalist saw an ad for the maternity brand Hatch by stating that the journalist was targeted because they resembled a “look-alike audience” that resembles customers, not because they downloaded the What to Expect app:
Everyday Health, the app’s maker, said it might have been my browsing history.
The clothing brand, Hatch, declined to share specifics about its targeting criteria.
And Facebook, upon looking into the ad, said I was targeted because I was part of a look-alike audience that resembles customers, uploaded by the advertiser, who apparently are in need of maternity-wear. The company reiterated I did not see that ad because I downloaded the pregnancy app. Must have been a coincidence.
Read the full article in the Wall Street Journal here.