Who is tracking your movements online? You’d assume your ISP and the government. How about Google? That’s a given. But what about social media sites, like Facebook? Well, they’re in on the act too, and they’re less than forthcoming with transparency.
In fact, in Europe, Facebook has recently shared your information along with 50 billion other users without your consent or knowledge. It has received repeated warnings about user tracking. A Belgian court even threatened them with a €250,000 daily fine until they changed their tracking practices.
Got your interest? Good. Here’s how you stop Facebook tracking you around the internet.
How Does Facebook Track You?
We’ve become a society intent on sharing…everything. How many times do you scroll through your Facebook feed and sigh at the information people are spewing forth? It goes further than that.
The millions of Facebook “Like” and “Share” buttons added to seemingly every website funnel web browsing data into the Facebook advertising algorithm. Consequently, the types of sites you visit away from Facebook will fine-tune the ads shown to you inside the social media site, as well as its other services.
Furthermore, each site with a Facebook button places an individual cookie on your computer. Along with the “normal” tracking information, this file can contain your individual Facebook id number. And even if you’re signed out of Facebook, the tracking ID contained in the cookie will inform the mothership of your internet whereabouts. Facebook has long tentacles. It also owns a number of other popular services. Remember when Facebook bought WhatsApp? How about when it bought Instagram? Users of those services may feel like they’re posting data in a separate social bubble, but it all feeds back into the same Facebook ad algorithm. WhatsApp users can actually turn data sharing off. Instagram users aren’t so lucky.
Why Is Facebook Tracking Me?
Advertising and money. They go hand in hand. Internet users are by now used to tracking technology. We’re tracked around the internet by numerous advertising companies, all making use of magical cookies.
In addition, your data, regardless of user status, helps to increase their actionable advertising target data. It is win-win for Facebook. Concise data that their business account holders can make better use of.
Tracking and advertising are central to the modern internet. Have you ever tried using NoScript or PrivacyBadger? Many sites literally break if the numerous tracking scrips cannot run.
How Do I Stop Facebook Tracking Me?
Okay, down to business. How do you actually stop Facebook tracking your movements around the internet? There are several great solutions and, better yet, many of them will stop other advertisers tracking you too.
Some websites rely on scripts. In this case, the script is a small piece of code that calls advertising (and other) trackers to your presence on a page. It is possible to block these scripts from running, on any web page you visit, using a browser extension.
-uBlock Origins an excellent start. It features a number of built-in script-blocking lists and is easy to use too. Better still, it has dedicated scripts for Disconnect filters (Disconnect is another useful extension), as well as some that specifically take aim at social media trackers. It is available for Chrome, Firefox, Opera, and Safari. I would advise using uBlock Origin and whitelisting your favorite trusted sites — like Awareness Act!
-NoScript is highly recommended but can be a steep learning curve. Your internet that works everywhere might suddenly be completely broken because of the blocked scripts. So while your privacy will be excellent, you might struggle to book flights, or even watch a video without tweaking your script settings. In that sense, it is highly customizable.
-PrivacyBadger is one of the next best things to NoScript. Where NoScript is for techies, you could install PrivacyBadger on your Grandma’s computer, knowing she’ll be protected and able to book flights. PrivacyBadger uses an easy-to-manage system of colored sliders. Green means okay, Yellow means third-party tracking but necessary for a functioning web, Red means content and scripts have been disabled. PrivacyBadger is available for Chrome, Firefox, and Opera.
If you’re using Chrome, you’re being tracked. It isn’t “just a Google” thing: all major browsers feature some form of tracking. But there are several lesser-known browser alternatives that focus exclusively on your privacy.
Advertising Opt-Outs and Cookies
Users can opt out of behavioral advertising en masse using a regional tool.
-U.S.— Digital Advertising Alliance
-Canada— Digital Advertising Alliance
It can take a few tries to get all the advertisers to accept your opt-out request.
Furthermore, users should also disable third-party cookies in their browsers via the Settings menu. This will stop third-party advertisers and behavioral tracking cookies making their way onto your system, to begin with. There are also some excellent extensions that can help you take on this too:
-Self-Destructing Cookies has been a privacy mainstay for years now. It gets rid of a website’s cookies and LocalStorage as soon as you close a tab. Useful and important cookies can be easily whitelisted. Self-Destructing Cookies is available for Firefox.
-Cookie AutoDelete performs the same set of tasks for Chrome users.
At the end of the day, the options are there. Taking privacy into your own hands isn’t as arduous as some parties make out, but it does require a little research. Hopefully, we’ve pointed you in the right direction.