Facebook's New Ads Are Nosier Than Ever

Facebook has never been shy about collecting its users' personal information and selling it to advertisers. But soon the social network will take information about other websites its users view while logged into Facebook and use that data to display ads, targeted at individual users, on Facebook itself.

Facebook says that with this change, users will only see advertisements highly relevant to their personal interests. Privacy advocates counter that Facebook is unduly impinging on users' privacy.

In its announcement today (June 12) Facebook also said it will no longer honor "Do not track" requests, a browser setting in which the pages you view are asked not to store information about your visit. However, if you find this extra tracking to be more nosy than helpful, there are still ways you can avoid it.

MORE: 13 Online Privacy Tips for the Paranoid

As a trade-off, Facebook is also giving users the ability to view the profiles that Facebook creates about their likes and preferences, and to add, delete or edit those preferences. This, the company says, gives users greater control over the advertisements they see within Facebook's Web pages and apps.

Facebook explained in a company blog post that the new advertising will work like this: "Say that you're thinking about buying a new TV, and you start researching TVs on the web and in mobile apps. We may show you ads [within Facebook] for deals on a TV."

Previously, Facebook could only track users' behavior on Facebook itself, such as which user pages you liked or links you viewed, although advertisers on Facebook could use information they had collected on you from other sites to create personalized Facebook ads for individual users. 

Plenty of online marketers already track people across multiple websites in order to create extremely detailed preference profiles on them. But Facebook is far bigger and more widely-known than most of these companies, so its decision may have strong industry repercussions.

It's also significant that Facebook will do this profiling even if users have "Do not track" enabled. Most browsers let users enable a "Do not track," so that all Web traffic is sent with an HTTP header asking the sites not to log the length of your visit, your geographic location and which  subpages or items you viewed. However, it's entirely up to websites whether to honor "Do not track" requests. 

Facebook will no longer honor "Do not track" requests, the company announced Thursday, saying this is partially due to a lack of standardization among major Internet companies about how to treat them. (The company will still honor "Do not track" requests on its mobile apps.)

By way of context, Twitter and Pinterest do still honor "Do not track" requests. Yahoo and Google — which itself tracks users logged into Gmail or YouTube, and then displays ads based on their behavior — do not.

If you don't want Facebook to track your Web activity, you can choose to opt out via the Self-Regulatory Program for Online Behavioral Advertising. On iOS and Android versions of Facebook, users will also be able to go into the app's settings and disable the tracking.

Email jscharr@tomsguide.com or follow her @JillScharr and Google+.  Follow us @TomsGuide, on Facebook and on Google+.

Jill Scharr is a creative writer and narrative designer in the videogame industry. She's currently Project Lead Writer at the games studio Harebrained Schemes, and has also worked at Bungie. Prior to that she worked as a Staff Writer for Tom's Guide, covering video games, online security, 3D printing and tech innovation among many subjects. 

  • dstarr3
  • ShadyHamster

    Agreed, although i usually disable adblock if the site asks but only if the ads are non-intrusive.
  • sykozis
    Adblock won't prevent you from being tracked, which is the issue most people have. I really don't care what ads they attempt to display. My issue is that Facebook wants to collect information that they have no right to collect and do so without my permission.
  • skit75
    Myspace is making room for Facebook at the place where websites go to die.
  • dstarr3
    Browsing the internet without any privacy measures set up is like talking really loudly on your cell phone in an elevator full of other people. You sorta can't get mad at them for listening.

    Defending yourself from this kind of tracking doesn't have to be difficult. Have two browsers. One for e-mail and social media, and the other on permanent Incognito mode or what have you for your browsing that you don't want tracked. It might be inconvenient, but it'd be equally inconvenient going outside with the insistence that no one looks at you.

    And also, Adblock. Adblock adblock adblock.
  • razor512
    They need to think before they put ads on the site. often the ads contain false information and are ptetty much always misleading. I generally use adblock because the ads are obnoxious but when you try to give them a chance, e.g., I am currently looking for a Samsung 840 pro. don't show me ads for flowers or other crap as that is a waste of time and bandwidth. If you want to be useful, show me an ad for an 840 pro that is being sold for less than the sites that I searched are selling them.

    The cheapest I found at a reputable store was $197, give me a better deal!

    This is where the ads fail, even though they are tracking your web use enough to know what you are looking for, they only serve ads to shady websites selling unrelated products. I would not mind non annoying ads if they were actually helpful.

    An example of a good ad will be "Hey we see you are searching for a 256GB Samsung 840 pro, the lowest price you saw was $197 but we have an offer here to get it for $175 including shipping" Or "Hey you were searching for X product but this product here benchmarks higher and cost the same or less"

    Until ads stop looking like the same crap that ends up in your email spam folder, addons like adblock will continue to be the most popular.

    A good example of a bad advertising is a website called tomshardware.com article text is turned into a minefield where random words will pop up unrelated ads that interest no one, and banner ads leading to sites that most people have never heard of, but charge much more for their products, or while knowing the audience of the site, will attempt to advertise an outrageously overpriced prebuilt gaming PC.

    Overall for virtually all online advertising, the well has been poisoned because 99.9% of all ads are nefarious. For virtually all sites that use ad distribution services, and not negotiate CPM agreements for a specific product (and thus thoroughly vetting the product), you end up with ads where most of the content is crap that would end up in your spam folder if it were to be e-mailed to you.

    If website onwers want to change the mindset of the people to better wolcome ads, they need to take more responsibility and ensure that only good ads are displayed where a user will find them helpful, at which point most people will not even mind tracking if it will end up making things better for them as well as saving money. (I have been using the internet since the early 90's, and I have never once seen an advertisement that directed me to a better deal for a product that I was searching for, or directed me to a product that would fit my needs, it is always something unrelated or a horrible deal from a shady looking site, or a misleading deal at a shady looking site)
  • oj88
    No longer honor "Do not track" requests? How arrogant Facebook is! The lawmakers in Washington DC should make a law to force all the companies to honor the requests, so people's privacy can be protected.
  • asterisx
    Too bad I can't check them out, I deleted my account a week back.
  • cats_Paw
    Dont worry asterisx, your account is still safe and sound in the facebook servers :D.

    Lucky for me I am so weird that even facebook dosent know what kind of ads to offer me.
    I guess thats what ahppens when you dont have a specific personality and it keeps changeing from time to time.
  • damianrobertjones
    Odd. For months, each time I log into facebook it presents me with ads for the Surface pro 2 so it's already been doing this for ages