Facebook's Expansion of Data Tracking/Surveillance of its Users: Why it should violate FTC Consent Decree
By: Jeff Chester | Jun 12 2014
Facebook briefed reporters late yesterday on its latest expansion of surveillance on its users (and asked them not to speak to privacy or consumer advocates for comment, with the exception of a group it funds). Facebook will be tracking users off its site as well, creating additional opportunities to target an individual anytime/anywhere. That indeed is the fundamental digital marketing business model--all your data for us to use in anyway we want. But Facebook's (and Google's) expansion of its consumer tracking and targeting is especially a concern--given their reach; complex of data-driven resources; and that they are both under a 20-year (and much vaunted by the FTC) Consent Decree to better protect privacy.
Facebook is totally disingenuous when it claims to want to protect user privacy and empower our data decision-making. It has been working with the largest databrokers, including Acxiom and Datalogix, to better hone our data profiles that can be sold to the highest bidder and used by its major advertisers. What it really is doing is grabbing as much of our information as possible, so they can generate revenues from the advertisers that keep the company afloat. In order to give the appearance that it was protecting our privacy, Facebook announced it is using the Digital Advertising Alliance (DAA) self-regulatory program, and also providing additional information to users on why they are being targeted by an ad. The DAA scheme is based on a nearly invisible icon adjacent to an ad. If one eventually clicks on it (and very few really do), one is sent to a webpage designed to quell any consumer concerns that their privacy is at stake. The DAA program has been widely criticized by academics, advocates and others. If you know how digital marketing works, the DAA system is a joke. As for providing users with some details on why they are seeing such an ad, the new program is unlikely to explain how Facebook works with outside marketers and data brokers to create its targeting system (such as what data is coming from Acxiom; what data, such as your email address, did advertisers send to Facebook about you, etc.; how it uses sweepstakes, contests and the like to get users to "voluntarily" identify themselves, etc.). Facebook knows that few users will opt-out if they see what appears to be innocuous information about them (such as we know you like pets, when it's really about a much more detailed gathering and use of their data, including financial information). The explanation users will receive about why they are receing a particular ad will be purposefully sanitized.
Facebook's expansion of its tracking of users, we believe, violates the Consent Decree. The decree was designed to ensure Facebook users have better control over their privacy. We have already expressed our concern to the FTC, and will be following up today as well with the commissioners. And we have called on our EU friends to act as well.