None of Your Business: Is Facebook Colluding to Spy on You?

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That ad tailored to something you just happen to be interested in conveniently pops up. Or maybe it’s inconvenient and you don’t appreciate them at all. Either way, a new study says your data is traipsing through thousands of companies’ databases before that targeted ad ever reaches you.

If you feel like someone in the proverbial 80’s song by Rockwell and you “get no privacy,” you’re not wrong. It’s no surprise to most that our data is being collected for marketing and who knows what other harmless or intrusive purposes. But you may be surprised by the scope of it.

Tracing the digital footsteps of 709 volunteers who agreed to share archives of their personal Facebook data, a Consumer Reports study revealed some jaw-dropping results:

* 709 participants had their data shared among a total of 186,892 different companies
* on average, an individual participant’s data was shared with 2,230 different companies

A full 96 percent of participants’ information was shared by a data broker known as LiveRamp. Other sources who appeared frequently in the study included Acxiom, Experian Marketing Services, ODC CA, Epsilon Audience Data Provider, The Home Depot, OMD USA, 4C, and Amazon.

The research also reports as many as 7,000 companies monitor the activities of an individual Facebook user, and 2,230 companies on average actively share individual consumers’ data with the Facebook networking app.

Don’t be mistaken – activities monitored aren’t limited to your online practices. The data can indeed include things like a visit to a website or gaming activities, but also trips to a physical store and purchasing a product in-store.

The sharing process occurs with signals that originate from Meta software code in mobile apps, tracking pixels on websites, and server-to-server communication. In the latter case, a company’s server passes your information on to a Meta server. And voile, Facebook has a wealth of information on you to initiate those tailor-made ads.

Consumer Reports called for policy changes that would require companies to restrict data collection to the least amount needed in providing a service. Meta responded in an email saying, “We offer a number of transparency tools to help people understand the information that businesses choose to share with us.” However, Consumer Reports noted that many providers’ identities are shielded and that advertisers frequently disregard users’ opt-out requests anyway.

It seems someone is always watching you, for better or worse. Will the information wars dissipate as regulations tighten on data collection and sharing? Or will individual privacy succumb to the pressures of the digital age?  Keep reading here.

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