I am going to refer to them as Facebook super cookies. These online trackers, known as cookies, that websites and webmasters use to track our online activities are becoming very sophisticated by the day. Some sites do not even allow you on their web page if you had previously disabled cookies in your browser. These sites claim enabling cookies would help them to make your browsing experience better. Don’t be deceived, like the Facebook super cookies, they just want to track you online.
And the Facebook super cookies has taken online tracking to another level. Using the data from the over 1 billion users of Facebook, they claim they know enough about you to predict the kind of ads you want to see. Well, most cookies do that. What Facebook super cookies do differently is that you don’t have to be a user of Facebook before you are tracked and targeted. Somehow, someone in that over 1.5 billion users of Facebook must have posted something about practically every single person in the world.
And it is not as if this is being done secretly. The giant tech firm actually announced the Facebook super cookies policy online:
However, one of the things we’ve heard from people is that many of the ads they see are annoying, distracting, or misleading. We think companies can do better, and that’s why we’ve been focused on improving ads both on and off Facebook.
For example, we introduced Facebook Audience Network two years ago to help publishers and developers support their services by showing relevant, high quality ads to people who visit their websites and apps. But in the past, we’ve only shown ads in these places to people who have Facebook accounts. Today, we’re expanding Audience Network so publishers and developers can show better ads to everyone – including those who don’t use or aren’t connected to Facebook.”
Why Facebook Super Cookies?
No matter how Facebook try to justify it, it is all about making more money from ads. With these move, Facebook are now removing the gloves and shedding all pretense about not really interested in making tons of money. Facebook is now listed on the stock exchange. The value of its stocks, which is practically the same thing as the value of the company, now depends on the mood of the stock market. To make shareholders happy, Facebook must show it can raise its revenue profile. Happy shareholders means valuable stocks. And valuable stocks translates into valuable company. Making everybody associated with Facebook very rich.
Targeted Ads is the New Internet
In theory targeted ads should work the way they say. That is, sending you ads based on your browsing habits. And Facebook is leveraging on the vast data it has accumulated over the years to do it better. However, Facebook super cookies must do better than what some people have noticed about targeted ads. Simply put, these ads are sent arbitrarily. For instance, A few weeks ago, I casually opened a website about natural remedies for common ailments. The next time I opened my Facebook page, I saw several annoying ads about things to do with herbs and all that. I surf a lot of tech and sports pages, but I never saw any ad relating to things sports or techs.
Facebook Under Hammer in Europe
There is a strong feeling that the Facebook super cookies policy was made public because of the several cases of privacy against Facebook in Europe. In Belgium, a report made public last year criticized Facebook’s offline tracking. The report also frowned on Facebook tracking of non-users of Facebook. And just this year, the French authorities forced Facebook to allow users to sign-out of sharing their personal data with advertisers. And more importantly, to adequately inform non-users of Facebook that their online activities are monitored by Facebook.
Fortunately though, one can hide from Facebook super cookies. That is, if what Facebook say is true. According to Facebook, if you have a Facebook account, you can stop the cookies by opting-out from your settings tab. Those who don’t have a Facebook account can do so through Digital Advertising Alliance. Non-facebook users living in the US can do it here. Canadians can do theirs here while non-facebook users living in Europe can disable the feature here.
I can see clearly that non-facebook users in third world countries have no place to go. Is it an indictment on regulatory bodies, or just simply the fact the big tech firms don’t take us seriously enough?
photo credit: newsroom.fb.com