Facebook Atlas: Giving Advertisers Invasive Maps of Your Life

eHow Tech Blog

Atlas thumbs down

Facebook has quietly introduced a new service for advertisers called Facebook Atlas, and we’re giving it a “thumbs down” because it’s not good for your privacy.

Like an atlas, it offers a collection of maps, but these maps show the whereabouts and activities of Internet users — whether Facebook subscribers or not. These detailed maps are chock full of tidbits about the online and offline lives of consumers — and your life is most likely in this collection, whether you like it or not.

Atlas conceptFacebook refers to Atlas as “People-based marketing,” which might lead you to think we, the people, are in charge of its mapping process. But we’re not. Marketers are in charge of this newfangled initiative and most of us are completely unaware.

You may think you can protect yourself online by deleting cookies and enabling the “do not track” feature in your browser, but Facebook Atlas has been designed to overcome these limitations. In fact, it’s people’s new-found privacy consciousness that’s driving marketers to develop surveillance methods like Atlas that are difficult to escape from.

Atlas tracks across devices

These days, most of us use multiple electronic devices to access the Internet, which makes it harder for marketers to track and profile people and their purchases. It’s also difficult for marketers to gauge the success of targeted ads if they can’t follow up on your purchase behavior to see if the ad worked. For example, if you browse an online store with your iPhone and later make a purchase at a brick and mortar store, or place an order through your tablet or desktop computer, it’s hard to link the two events.

These blind spots are frustrating to marketers who want to know everything about you. They also crave the ability to watch those consumers who have the nerve to delete cookies or turn on “do not track” on their devices to help protect their privacy.

Online to brick and mortar activity

Enter services like Atlas, designed to collect and consolidate information about everyone, no matter what devices they use, what cookies they delete or where they choose to shop.

Atlas learns what devices people use by tracking their sign ins to Facebook and to a network of partner sites. Then it follows online activities like ad clicks using a wide variety of trackers, including persistent cookies and web beacons that are more difficult to delete. Atlas can also update your marketing profile by recording searches you do at non-private search engines and may use information gleaned from “free” email services that carefully analyze every message that passes through their servers.

Here’s a list of possible sources they might use, straight from the company’s privacy policy:

collected info image1

Atlas does not honor “do not track” requests set in people’s browsers.

If you read through the lines of its carefully crafted privacy policy, Atlas states that even if you opt out of targeted advertising through the Network Advertising Initiative or Digital Advertising Alliance Consumer Choice Page, they’ll still track your behavior and store it — they just won’t serve you personalized ads. Gee, thanks!

Check out their policy for yourselves, foks.  It doesn’t get much more invasive than this:

cant opt out1

Unfortunately, Facebook’s Atlas isn’t the only company doing this kind of no-holds-barred consumer activity mapping. It’s the latest marketing trend. But let’s face it. Facebook has a huge snooping advantage because so many people use its social media service and often do so on multiple devices.

Being tracked is not only offensive, it’s dangerous to our privacy and our civil liberties. Once a private company has your information, the government can get its hands on it, too.

Here are a few ways to help minimize your exposure to these ramped up information collection schemes:

  • Think twice before using social media at all. If you provide true sign-up information the sites require, it could be a key to unlocking and linking considerable information about you.
  • If you choose to use social media, use just one device to sign into your account. If you log in to the same account with different devices, companies like Atlas can link your devices in their profiling databases.
  • Switch to privacy-friendly services that don’t collect or store your personal information, or only use it for the purpose at hand. We recommend StartPage.com and Ixquick.com for private search, and StartMail.com for private email.
  • Arm yourself for the Internet minefield with privacy applications like Ghostery. Ghostery blocks information trackers from numerous organizations, including Facebook Atlas. According to Ghostery, if you block Atlas, any other Facebook tag or any other tag in its library, it keeps the information from leaving the browser in the first place.

Til next time,

Katherine & Liz

Join the privacy revolution by switching to StartPage.com the private search engine, and using StartMail.com encrypted email, both projects Katherine has helped develop. You can catch Katherine on radio daily at www.kmashow.com. And please read our book, Spychips, to learn more about privacy-invading technology and how to defeat it.

Photo credits: goku4501/Bigstock.com/Liz McIntyre, Facebook Atlas

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