How to limit Facebook from spying on you

For now, usual suspicion is that Facebook is spying people by microphones on their mobile phones. This means that if you say certain brand name during any kind of conversation you will see ads for that exact brand on Facebook. Facebook ad-targeting product manager Antonio Garcia Martinez says that this is not true due to the fact that uploading and scanning that amount of audio data will strain even NSA.

This doesn’t mean that Facebook is not spying on you. There must be a way for them to know how to target you for specific ads. They need to obtain your personal data and preferences somehow. They don’t need the mic on your phone but other features that you are unaware of.

Data brokers are selling information about you

If you go to the shopping, for every single item you buy, you procure some sort of information. For example, to get certain loyalty points, you usually provide your information such as full name, e-mail, phone number or customer ID. This is more than enough for the stores to collect data about your shopping habits and purchase history. Data brokers are the companies that gather all the data containing consumer’s personal information and habits. Makers of products or sellers are paying the sum of money to get such information about (potential) customers from Data brokers.

This is where Facebook comes in. As a social platform with the largest user counter ever, it is the best place for sellers to use previously obtained information for ad targeting. There is no point to advertise a product to someone who is not your target audience (not interested in your products). That is why they need your name, gender, age, purchase history, hobbies, and interests. Facebook is working with six data brokers, such as Acxiom, Epsilon, Experian, Oracle Data Cloud, TransUnion, and WPP.

You can request them to remove all of your information from their databases if you want. Of course, you will need to visit each of their websites and fill in the form to do so. A long and boring task, but it’s ironic that you need to put your personal information in the form for them to remove your – personal information. Feel free to click on the links above and opt out yourself if you wish to do it.

Prevent or limit their tracking of you

When it comes to loyalty cards, if it is not really necessary, don’t use them. If you need to, register with another e-mail or phone number you don’t use.

Another step is limiting Facebook from knowing your current location and location history. Go to Settings > Account Settings > Location and turn off location tracking and disable location history. If you enable the Facebook app to gain access to your GPS, it knows where you are. Every time you connect to Wi-Fi access point, you leave your “trail” for Facebook to know where you have been.

Disable FB location

Source: Wilson Rothman, The Wall Street Journal

Even if you have installed certain apps on your phone like food tracking app, Facebook will still offer you weight loss ads. Companies tend to swap information and iPhone has something like iPhone’s Identifier for Advertisers (IDFA). That is a number stored on the iPhone, to match up any other history associated with IDFA, including Facebook account. To limit advertisers from getting your IDFA, in iOS go to Settings > Privacy > Advertising > switch on Limit Ad Tracking. At the same time, you should reset the advertising identifier. With Android’s similar system, just go to Settings > Google > Ads > Opt out of Ads Personalization.

Source: Wilson Rothman, The Wall Street Journal

At last, Facebook, Amazon, Google, and others offer ways to opt out on their own websites. On Facebook, go to Settings > Account Settings > Ads > Ad Settings and turn off all the settings on that page. You can also delete any interests Facebook may have gathered about you previously. Install the Ghostery or Privacy Badger extensions for your computer’s browser. Both allow you to see—and disable— trackers that are running on web pages.

Is this all going to remove you entirely from them bombing you with ads that they think you should see? Hardly, because we are using the technology that always has the way to “spy on people”. There is no transparency as to how these ads are getting to us. Unless going completely offline (or even off-grid) there is no way to stop the tracking.

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