Facebook knows where you are – even if you turn off location tracking
How Facebook knows where you are – even if you turn off location tracking
- A new report found Facebook will still track users who disable location services
- Firm looks at a user’s IP address, places they check into and their current city
- Privacy advocates recommend people use a VPN or delete the Facebook app
Facebook has made it nearly impossible for users to avoid having their location tracked.
A new report has found that even if users turn off location tracking on Facebook, the firm will still use their IP address, as well as other information like their check-ins and the city listed on their profile to discern where they are and generated targeted ads, according to Gizmodo.
This experienced was recounted by Aleksandra Korolova, an assistant professor at the University of Southern California, who examined how Facebook tracks a user’s location.
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A new report has found that even if users turn off location tracking on Facebook, the firm will still use their IP address, as well as other information like their check-ins and the city listed on their profile to discern where they are and generated targeted ads
‘When it comes to one of the most privacy-sensitive types of data, location, Facebook does not provide meaningful controls and is misleading in its statements to users and advertisers,’ Korolova explained.
‘…Taken together, Facebook creates an illusion of control rather than gives actual control over location-related ad targeting, which can lead to real harms.’
Korolova turned off location tracking on Facebook, doesn’t check into places and doesn’t list a city on her profile, yet she continued to see location-specific ads on Facebook.
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For example, when she visited Glacier National Park, she saw an advertisement for things to do in Montana, Gizmodo noted.
She discovered that this is because the firm looks at a user’s IP address and may use that to show targeted advertisements on their feed.
A user’s IP address gives internet firms a rough idea of where they live, including their state, city or zip code, according to Gizmodo.
Pictured is a graphic that explains how Facebook discerns a user’s location even when their location services are turned off. It looks at a user’s IP address, WiFi connection and other data
This information is then utilized by many brands so they can show users advertisements relevant to their location, interests, age, gender and other demographic information.
Users can avoid being tracked by deleting the Facebook app on their phone, using a virtual private network or deleting their Facebook altogether, Gizmodo noted.
Facebook maintains that this is a common practice and that internet users should already be aware of it.
‘Facebook does not use WiFi data to determine your location for ads if you have Location Services turned off,’ a Facebook spokesperson told Gizmodo.
‘We do use IP and other information such as check-ins and current city from your profile.
‘We explain this to people, including in our Privacy Basics site and on the About Facebook Ads site,’ the firm added.
Facebook maintains that collecting a user’s IP address for targeted advertisements is a common practice and that internet users should already be aware of it
WHAT IS A VIRTUAL PRIVATE NETWORK?
A Virtual Private Network (VPN) extends across a public network, and enables users to send and receive data while maintaining the secrecy of a private network.
VPN’s are often used to allow employees to access the server of their office/workplace to allow for mobile working.
They increase privacy and the internet security of users connected to public networks.
They are also used to link offices/branches of the same company that are in different locations.
Theoretically, all the information that passes through a VPN secure and can not be intercepted by anyone else.
Although they do not offer total anonymity online, they are often used to optimise privacy.
VPN’s can also be used by individuals to allow them to get around geographical restrictions and censorship – for example, accessing the Netflix of the US from the UK or vice versa.
Their use in ‘geo-spoofing’ locations is also used in to aid freedom of speech as many users wish to escape the limitations placed on their browsing by employers, organisations or third-parties.
A VPN can also help protect you against malware or cons on the web.
So while users can do things like turn off location services and opt out of location tracking on Facebook, they can never keep their location entirely private.
‘There is no way for people to opt out of using location for ads entirely,’ a Facebook spokesperson told Gizmodo.
‘We use city and zip level location which we collect from IP addresses and other information such as check-ins and current city from your profile to ensure we are providing people with a good service – from ensuring they see Facebook in the right language, to making sure that they are shown nearby events and ads for businesses that are local to them.’
The move presents a shift in policy for Facebook, which said in a blog post in 2014 that ‘people have control over the recent location information they share with Facebook and will only see ads based on their recent location if location services are enabled on their phone.’
Facebook’s privacy management website describes how users can turn off location services, but that the firm will still be able to discern their location using things like check-ins and events
While Facebook isn’t the only internet firm that looks at a user’s IP address to generate ads, some believe the company should be held to a higher standard than others
Facebook’s change of heart is likely to spark the ire of privacy advocates who say users should be given greater controls over their information and how they’re tracked.
And while Facebook isn’t the only one who looks at a user’s IP address, Kolokava believes Facebook should be held to a higher standard.
‘The locations that a person visits and lives in reveal a great deal about them,’ Kolokava wrote.
‘Their surreptitious collection and use in ad targeting can pave way to ads that are harmful, target people when they are vulnerable, or enable harassment and discrimination.’
HOW CAN YOU DOWNLOAD THE MOUNTAINS OF DATA FACEBOOK HAS ON YOU?
Downloading your archived user data from Facebook may reveal a laundry list of eyebrow-raising data points, from your personal call records, to text messages, as well as your location each time you log into the site.
To download your data, first log in to your Facebook account.
In the right-hand corner of your News Feed, there should be an arrow that displays a dropdown menu.
From there, click on ‘Settings’ and click on ‘Download a copy of your Facebook data’ at the bottom of the screen.
Users can find out exactly what kinds of data Facebook has collected from them by downloading an archive from the site (pictured). To do this, click on ‘Settings’ in the News Feed
The archive typically includes information like ads you’ve clicked on and timeline posts to more intimate information like your text messages, call logs and your phone’s address book
That will take you to a new page, where you can click on ‘Start My Archive’ to get a copy of what you’ve shared on the site, as well as any personal data that’s been collected.
Facebook may tell you to enter your password, as well as your email, so that it can notify you when your archive is ready for download.
It may take several minutes depending on how much data you have and how long you’ve been a Facebook user.
For example, if you’ve been a Facebook user for more than a decade, it could take up to 10 minutes for the company to send you your data.
Once you receive your files, the information is broken down into sections like contact info, text messages, Facebook messages, advertisers and more.
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