You Should Go Check Facebook’s New Privacy Settings
Last week, Facebook introduced a way to show ads across the web to everyone, not just its own users. At the same time, it added a new privacy setting for people already on Facebook to limit how their activity on the social network shows up in ads elsewhere. It gets confusing! Here’s what’s up.
First, a note on what’s new and what’s not. Facebook, as you might have guessed, knows lots of things about people who are on Facebook based on what they like, what they click, and so on. It also, though, knows lots of things about them from what they do elsewhere on the web, thanks to various integrations with numerous sites (think, just for starters, of how often you see a “like” button online).
For the last two years, Facebook has used this information to serve up ads to Facebook users all over the web, through its Facebook Audience Network. During that time, you’ve been able to opt out of letting Facebook track your behavior across websites and apps to decide what kind of ads you see, but not whether your actions on Facebook inform the ads you see. Now you can opt out of both. And now it also serves ads to non-Facebook users. Whether you have an account doesn’t matter. Ads are based on your online activity.
That’s not to say that any of this is inherently bad; ad networks aren’t just an inescapable part of the internet, they pay for most of it. And in a post announcing Facebook’s ad network expansion, VP Andrew Bosworth argues that the company only allows higher-quality ads (no default sound, no deceptive ads, fewer accidental click-throughs, etc.) than you might otherwise be subject to. Some people may also prefer relevant ads; if they’re going to see them anyway, it may as well be for something they’re actually interested in.
Facebook tracking your activity online even though you’re not a Facebook member may rightly make you uncomfortable. Similarly, liking the Baltimore Orioles on Facebook doesn’t necessarily mean you want an Internet full of Chris Davis jersey ads. Here’s how to adjust to the latest changes.
If You’re on Facebook Already
There’s been some confusion over this, so just to clarify: While Facebook has introduced a new privacy setting, it has not overridden any previous preferences.
“If you have ever opted out of online interest-based ads, you opted out of this for all ads Facebook served, both on Facebook and off,” says Facebook spokesman Matt Steinfeld. “Nothing in our announcement on May 26 changes this. If you opted out on May 25, you’re still opted out today.”
Instead, when Facebook asks if “your Facebook ad preferences can be used to show you ads on apps and websites off of the Facebook Companies,” it’s giving you the option to turn off something that had previously been on by default, with no means of opting out. Now you can, right here.
Apologies if you already knew this (you probably at the very least suspected it) but in the course of your Facebook wanderings, the things you like or otherwise express interest in are cataloged under your “ad preferences.” You can see yours here. These are the topics Facebook thinks you care about, and in part what it bases the ads it shows you on. The Facebook Audience Network has let these preferences follow you around the web, regardless of whether you want them to.
You’ve been able to remove preferences one by one already. This new setting, though, lets you keep your Facebook ad preferences on Facebook, rather than spread out all around the web, with one click. Note that this doesn’t mean you won’t see ads from the Facebook Audience Network! But when you do, they won’t be based on whether you happened to “like” Hot Pockets one especially forgettable night back in college.
If You’re Not on Facebook At All
If you’re one of the few Facebook holdouts, and don’t want the empire of the Zuck tracking the sites you use and how you use them, you can take steps to prevent ad-tracking generally that Facebook will abide by.
There’s no catch-all way to avoid tracking on the desktop (well, there are ad blockers if you’d prefer the nuclear option, but those have unintended side effects, as well), but dozens of major ad networks—including Amazon, AOL, Yahoo, and Facebook—have signed on with the Digital Advertising Alliance, which lets you opt out en masse from browser-specific tracking. You’ll have to do this on each browser you use, which is a little bit annoying, but it also only takes a couple of clicks each time.
Mobile devices are a little easier to manage. On iOS, go to Settings > Privacy > Advertising > Limit Ad Tracking. On Android, go to Settings > Google > Ads > Opt out of interest-based ads. Facebook, and other (but not all) companies will no longer serve you ads based on your online activity.
Phew! We did it. You’ll still see ads online, and ads from Facebook, but at least now you’ve got a little more control over whether social media activity (or online activity of any kind) informs the kind of ads you see. If the trade-off is less relevant, more annoying ads, well, that seems worth it.
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