Facebook clarifies how and what data it collects even after you log out

18th Apr 2018
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In a long blog post,  Product Management Director David Baser reveals more about the information Facebook gets from other websites and apps, how they use this data, and the controls users have.

Caught in a storm that some might say is of its own making after the Cambridge Analytica scam revealed that data from Facebook was used to influence public opinion preceding the 2016 US elections, the social media major is now scrambling to restore users’ trust. The latest revelation made by Facebook Founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg was that Facebook continues to collect user data even when one is not directly using the website or app.

Testifying in front of Congress, Mark neither had the luxury of time nor the appropriate platform to explain in detail, but has now published a blog post to demystify Facebook's policies, as he had promised to do during his testimony.

Image courtesy: Reuters

Product Management Director David Baser, who penned this blog post under the series ‘Hard Questions’ that was kicked off by the company in June 2017 to “address the impact of (their) products on society”, writes, “We wanted to take the opportunity to explain more about the information we get from other websites and apps, how we use the data they send to us, and the controls you have.”

Many websites and apps use Facebook services to make their content and ads more engaging and relevant – like embedding Facebook’s Like and Share buttons; logging in through Facebook; Facebook Analytics, which helps websites and apps better understand how people use their services; and Facebook ads and measurement tools, which enable websites and apps to show ads from Facebook advertisers, to run their own ads on Facebook or elsewhere, and to understand the effectiveness of their ads.

Here is an abridged version of the roughly 1,500-word long post, outlining the company's policies:

"When does Facebook get data about people from other websites and apps?

When you visit a site or app that uses our services, we receive information even if you’re logged out or don’t have a Facebook account. This is because other apps and sites don’t know who is using Facebook. Twitter, Pinterest, Google and LinkedIn all have similar Like and Share buttons to help people share things on their services. These companies — and many others — also offer advertising services. In fact, most websites and apps send the same information to multiple companies each time you visit them.

Apps and websites that use our services, such as the Like button or Facebook Analytics, send us information to make their content and ads better.

When you visit a website, your browser (for example Chrome, Safari or Firefox) sends a request to the site’s server. The browser shares your IP address so the website knows where on the internet to send the site content. It also gets cookies, which are identifiers that websites use to know if you’ve visited before. This can help with things like saving items in your shopping cart.

A website typically sends two things back to your browser: first, content from that site; and second, instructions for the browser to send your request to the other companies providing content or services on the site.

How does Facebook use the data it receives from other websites and apps?

We don’t sell people’s data. Period.

There are three main ways in which Facebook uses the information we get from other websites and apps.

  1. Providing Our Services

Social plugins and Facebook Login: We use your IP address, browser/operating system information, and the address of the website or app you’re using to make these features work. For example, knowing your IP address allows us to send the Like button to your browser and helps us show it in your language. Cookies and device identifiers help us determine whether you’re logged in, which makes it easier to share content or use Facebook to log into another app.

Facebook Analytics: IP addresses help us list the countries where people are using an app. Browser and operating system information enable us to give developers information about the platforms people use to access their app. Cookies and other identifiers help us count the number of unique visitors, and also help us recognise which visitors are Facebook users so we can provide aggregated demographic information, like age and gender, about the people using the app.

Ads: Facebook Audience Network enables other websites and apps to show ads from Facebook advertisers. When we get a request to show an Audience Network ad, we need to know where to send it and the browser and operating system a person is using.

Ad Measurement: An advertiser can choose to add the Facebook Pixel, some computer code, to their site. This allows us to give advertisers stats about how many people are responding to their ads — even if they saw the ad on a different device — without us sharing anyone’s personal information.

  1. Keeping Your Information Secure

Receiving data about the sites a particular browser has visited can help us identify bad actors. If someone tries to log into your account using an IP address from a different country, we might ask some questions to verify it’s you. Or if a browser has visited hundreds of sites in the last five minutes, that’s a sign the device might be a bot.

  1. Improving Our Products and Services

The information we receive also helps us improve the content and ads we show on Facebook. So, if you visit a lot of sports sites that use our services, you might see sports-related stories higher up in your News Feed.

What controls do I have? 

We require websites and apps who use our tools to tell you they’re collecting and sharing your information with us, and to get your permission to do so, through features like News Feed preferences and ad preferences (that lets one) to stop seeing particular ads or opt out of these types of ads entirely. Finally, if you don’t want us to use your Facebook interests to show you ads on other websites and apps, there’s a control for that too.

Whether it’s information from apps and websites, or information you share with other people on Facebook, we want to put you in control — and be transparent about what information Facebook has and how it is used. We’ll keep working to make that easier.”

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