Facebook Will Now Tell You When It's Being Creepy
Have you ever looked at the ads Facebook shows you and wondered why they're eerily relevant to what you've been doing? That's because Facebook tracks your behaviour - both on the social networking site and on other sites - and uses the information to show you ads. Now, it's going to tell you when it's serving up targeted content.
The firm has signed a deal with the Council of Better Business Bureaus to use an icon known as AdChoices. Whenever you're shown an ad that's been served up based on your online behaviour, you'll know about it because you'll be shown the icon. It's not entirely transparent, though - apparently you'll still have to hover your mouse cursor over a small grey 'x' in the ad's corner.
Facebook has been tracking what you talk about on the social networking site for a while. This is why if you keep talking about how you want to go to Mexico in your status updates, you're likely to get travel-related ads.
But in November, the company went a stage further, launching Facebook Exchange, in conjunction with eight other companies known as demand side providers (DSPs). These companies have deals with other large web site owners. When you visit a site that has an agreement with a DSP, the DSP will drop a small electronic file called a 'cookie' into your browser.
A cookie is like a small note that someone might pin to your back without you knowing, when you leave a store. It would let other store owners know where you'd been and what you were looking for when you went into their stores. But cookies are online, the stores are web sites, and the note is a small file 'pinned' invisibly to your browser.
When you get given a cookie, it will contain information about what you were doing (say, getting to the point where you almost paid for a ticket to Mexico on a travel site). Then, when you visit Facebook, the social networking site can read those cookies so that it knows what you did. Its advertisers can then show you ads targeted to your activities.
The AdChoices deal will focus specifically on ads provided via Facebook Exchange. From now on, whenever Facebook is getting extra-creepy, you'll know about it. Now, all the firm has to do is give us the option to turn it off altogether. Sadly, that isn't on the cards, apparently.