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Thousands of companies actively monitor Facebook users

A recent study has exposed the extensive surveillance of Facebook users, revealing that thousands of companies, including LiveRamp, Acxiom, Experian Marketing Services, Hearts & Science, ODC CA, Epsilon Audience Data Provider, The Home Depot, OMD USA, 4C, and Amazon, actively track individual activities on the platform for targeted advertising.

The research indicates that around 7,000 companies are monitoring the online activities of individual Facebook users. Data collected includes information from events and custom audiences, providing insights into user behavior within and outside Meta’s platforms. Custom audiences enable advertisers to upload customer lists, using identifiers like email addresses and mobile advertising IDs, for targeted ads across Meta’s platforms. Events encompass user interactions with brands, both online and in the physical world.

Data collection signals originate from Meta software code in mobile apps, tracking pixels on websites, and server-to-server tracking. The study, involving 709 volunteers sharing their Facebook data archives, found that 186,892 companies sent data to Facebook. On average, each participant had their data sent to Facebook by 2,230 companies, with some individuals having data shared by over 7,000 companies.

Consumer Reports and The Markup conducted the study, calling for policy changes in data collection practices. Recommendations include adopting data-minimization strategies and limiting data collection to what is strictly necessary. The study also proposes authorized agents to protect consumer rights and increased transparency across Meta apps, advocating for ad archives allowing the public to view all ads served on the platform. Despite Meta's transparency tools, the study notes opacity in the identities of many data providers and advertisers often disregarding user opt-out requests.

While providing insights into Facebook's data monitoring practices, the study acknowledges potential biases in the sample due to self-selection, emphasizing ongoing concerns about data privacy and user consent in the digital advertising landscape.

Source: adapted from an article by Sophie Blake, Author for Mobile Marketing Reads.

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