An ad pops up that’s right up your alley, or three new articles show up in your feed that are similar to something you’ve just clicked on.
Sometimes it seems like Facebook knows you personally, and that’s because it does. It has algorithms that track what you like, watch and click on. Facebook uses this information to target ads or relevant posts to users on behalf of advertisers.
Remember the story we shared last year about Kelli Burns, a mass communication professor at the University of South Florida, who claimed that Facebook listens to everything you're saying? According to Burns, the reach of Facebook's tracking abilities extends far beyond what the average user might expect, or feel comfortable with. (Click here to read the full story.)
But there is some good news. There are things you can do to stop Facebook from tracking your every move. Keep reading for step-by-step instructions on the settings you need to change now.
1. Stop "behavioral tracking"
Facebook's "behavioral tracking and targeting" tracks your behavior while using the service unless you turn it off. Facebook can also use GPS paired with Wi-Fi and radio signals, beacons, cell towers and partnerships with brick-and-mortar stores to follow you when you're offline too.
The metric is called "Store Visits," and it all boils down to advertising dollars. The data collected about you is used to show marketers how online ads affect in-store purchases. Is that ad you saw on the side of your screen the reason you're shopping in the particular store you're in? That's the answer these marketers are after.
So far, it looks like online ads do correlate to foot traffic in brick-and-mortar stores. According to Tech Crunch, one retailer reported that 12 percent of their online ad clicks turned into a visit to the physical store within seven days. That's substantial so you can expect this sort of tracking to explode.
This notion is also fueled by ads that can connect you to the physical store, aptly called the "Store Locator."
Fortunately, you can opt-out. You never know who else might have access to this data of where you go, when you go there and what you do when you get there.
How to opt out
From your Facebook profile, click on the drop-down menu in the upper right side (to the right of Find Friends).
Choose Settings >> select Ads from the left-hand side of the page >> Edit each Yes >> select either Choose Setting >> Off, or turn Yes to No.
2. Stop being tracked when you're not using Facebook
The average Facebook user expects a certain degree of tracking to take place. Many companies do this to better understand which features and products users prefer so that those services can then be improved upon. But you wouldn't expect a service that you're not using to track you, right?
Few people realize that Facebook can track them in other ways, too. This typically happens through third-party sites and developers. And the scary thing is that, in most cases, you give these third-party companies permission to do this, you just don't realize it.
That’s what these third-party companies are banking on. If you don’t know you’re being tracked, then you won’t ask them to stop. So, here are three things to watch out for.
Facebook apps: This is when you receive a request to play a Facebook game your friends are obsessed with, and you decide to sign up. If you’ve ever done this before, then you’ve allowed that app developer to track you. These third-party apps interact with your Facebook profile and can ask Facebook for permission to pull various personal data from your work history to timeline posts. And although you can edit what information they can access, very few people do.
Facebook logins: This is when you visit a site and it says "Log in with Facebook," and you do, then you're letting that company track you.
Friends’ apps monitor you: Even if you didn’t download an app, your Facebook settings may allow apps your friends have installed to also see YOU.
Here's what to do:
Review and edit installed apps: To see what apps you've installed over the years, open Facebook in your browser, click the down arrow in the upper right corner and select "Settings." Then click on the "Apps" header in the left column. Click here for more tips on finding the companies that can track you.
To see what information an app is accessing, click the pencil icon next to any of the apps to see and edit the settings. The first setting lets you set who can see that you use the app. It defaults to "Only Me," so it isn't that big of a deal.
Remove apps you don’t use: If you don't want to use the app anymore, you can click the "Remove app" link at the bottom of the page. Just remember that this won't automatically remove your information from the app developer's servers. For that, you'll need to contact the app developer directly. Facebook has a link for more information on this under the "Remove info collected by the app" section in the app's settings.
Turn off apps completely: If you've deleted all the apps, and you're not keen on accidentally installing more in the future, you can turn off the app platform completely. Just note you won't be able to install apps or log in to third-party sites using Facebook until you turn this back on.
To turn off the app platform, go back to the App Settings page. Under "Apps, Websites and Plugins," click the "Edit" button. At first, this just looks like a way to disable app notifications and invites from other people, which is a big help on its own. However, you'll want to click the "Disable Platform" link in the bottom left corner.
Facebook gives you the standard warning about what disabling the platform does. If you're OK with it, click the "Disable Platform" button. Again, this won't remove information that app developers might have collected about you already.
Stop logging into sites using Facebook: In the future, when you're adding an app or logging into a website try to avoid logging in with Facebook. But, if you must use Facebook to log in, then look for the "Log in Anonymously" or “Guest” option so it won’t share your information.
Stop friends' apps from seeing your info: Apps can still get your information through your friends. As your friends install apps, those apps can request permission to get info about you.
To put a stop to this, go back to the App Settings page. Then under "Apps Others Use" click the "Edit" button.
You'll see everything that your friends' apps can see about you. Go through and uncheck every option listed on the page, and then click "Save." Now companies can't track new information about you.
3. Disable third-party cookies
As we mentioned previously, Facebook isn't the only company out there that's tracking your activity on the web. If you'd like to take a broader approach to your online privacy, one option is to disable third-party cookies.
These "cookies" aren't the kind of cookies you'd find at your local bakery. They're small bits of data stored on your browser that you receive from many websites. And that's how these companies track your online activity.
Not all cookies are bad. In fact, most of these cookies are used to save your personal settings and preferences. However, third-party cookies can actually be used to track your activity as you move from site to site. These are the cookies you want to prevent.
Here's how to block them:
Delete existing cookies: To get rid of the third-party cookies you already have, grab a cleaning program like CCleaner. It will offer to clean up the cookies on your hard drive, and it can target just third-party cookies.
You can also just wipe out all your cookies and start over, but that can make sites you use often a little less friendly for a while. You'll have to log back in and update any settings you had in place.
Change your browser settings: Once the third-party cookies are gone, you need to change your browser settings to keep them away.
- Internet Explorer: Click on the gear in the top-right corner and select Internet Options. Go to the Privacy tab and click the Advanced button. Check the "Override automatic cookie handling" option, and then set "Third-party Cookies" to "Block." Click the OK button.
- Google Chrome: Click the three-lined icon in the top-right corner of your screen and select Settings. Under the Settings section, click the "Show advanced settings" link at the bottom. In the Privacy section, click on the Content Settings button. Under Cookies, check the "Block third-party cookies and site data" option and click Done.
- Firefox: Click the three-lined icon in the top-right corner of your screen and select Options (PC) or Preferences (Mac). Go to the Privacy tab and under History, set "Firefox will" to "Use custom settings for history." Then set "Accept third-party cookies" to "Never."
- Safari: Third-party cookies are turned off by default, but it never hurts to double check. Pull down the Safari menu and select the Privacy tab. Choose the option to block cookies from third parties and advertisers.
Blocking third-party cookies shouldn't have a noticeable effect on the sites you use. However, if you notice a site isn't working properly, go back into your browser's cookie settings to make an exception for that site.