As one of few companies that you willingly submit a ton of personal information to, Facebook knows more about you than most. Because of that, the company is frequently under the microscope when it comes to user privacy, but the its new hyper-local advertising effort suggests that businesses—not users—are Facebook’s top priority.
The new type of mobile ads, which are being rolled out as an option for advertisers as we speak, not only use your age, gender, interests, and overall social profile to determine which ads you’re most likely to fall for, but now they track your exact location via your smartphone as well. The idea is that if you’re browsing Facebook on your phone and see an ad for a business within a mile of you, you’re more likely to visit it.
If you’re a bit creeped out by the idea of this type of location-aware advertising, you’re not alone. These “stalker” ads are certainly unsettling for anyone who cringes at the idea of companies setting up invisible GPS fences, hoping to snag Facebook users who happen to pass through.
Facebook justifies its new ad efforts by promising that they are “built with privacy in mind,” and that advertisers are not notified which specific individuals have seen their ads. Fair enough, but a question remains: If you’re already using every bit of information I’ve submitted to the social network—including my city and state—in order to target me with relevant ads, do you really need to know my exact location throughout the day as well?
It’s not like the previous amount of information has really been a success. I don’t think I’m alone in saying that if feeding me relevant ads is Facebook’s job, it’s failing at it. Horribly. Now, those ads can follow you around.
And no, there’s no way to turn this tracking off from within the app, so don’t bother digging into your Facebook menus. As Facebook itself admits, the only way to avoid being targeted by location-aware ads is to forcibly yank location permissions from the app itself. Yes, the same permissions it constantly pesters you for upon installing the app are the ones you need to go into your phone’s settings menu and remove in order to avoid falling into the crosshairs of Facebook’s advertising algorithms.
This is especially interesting considering Facebook already has a menu dedicated to ad settings. On this list you can tweak things like whether you see ads based on what your friends like, and whether third party ads will ever be able to use your image and name. Why the option to simply turn off hyper-local ads isn’t included here is a mystery—or perhaps the answer is obvious.
If you’re like me, you might be interested in how to keep Facebook from letting advertisers act like jilted lovers—littering your Facebook feed when they see you walk past their front door—here’s how to shut it down:
On iOS: Click the Settings icon, then Privacy, and finally Location Services. From here, find Facebook on the list, tap it, and change the setting to “Never.” This will prevent the app from tracking your location whatsoever.
On Android: Since you agree to allow Facebook to use your device’s location when you first download the app, you’re going to need to simply click Location Services off within your phone’s settings menu. If you’re an advanced user you can dive into third party apps like Tasker, which allow you to set up how each app uses things like location services, but generally speaking the quickest way to prevent Facebook’s creepy new ads is to simply toggle location services off entirely.
Photo via mil8/Flickr(CC 2.0)