Thursday 18 December 2014

Facebook under fire over plans to mine data for ads

Sarah Stack

Published 30/07/2014 | 02:30

Facebook is under fire
Facebook is under fire

Facebook is under fire from consumer groups over its plans to collect users' internet browsing activities for "targeted advertising".

European and US lobbyists have written to the Irish Data Protection Commissioner and the American Federal Trade Commission demanding changes to the social network's ability to scour users' internet searches even when not logged on.

The Trans Atlantic Consumer Dialogue (TACD), which includes the European Consumer Organisation, said there was "deep alarm" about the move announced by Facebook last month.

"Consumer organisations in both the US and Europe are very concerned about this development and we're asking for regulatory intervention to stop what would be an unprecedented incursion into users' lives online," it added.

Facebook already installs cookies and pixel tags on users' computers so that it can track browsing activity on Facebook.com and Facebook apps.

"If Facebook is permitted to expand its data collection practices, those cookies and pixel tags will also track users' browsing activity on any website that includes a few lines of Facebook code," wrote Kostas Rossoglou, TACD EU co-chair.

"We urge you to act immediately to notify the company that it must suspend its proposed change in business practices to determine whether it complies with current US and EU law.

Publish

"We ask you to publish your findings so that your investigations can be subject to a public assessment and review."

The office of Data Commissioner Billy Hawkes confirmed it received the letter yesterday.

"Its content is under consideration. We will respond to the letter in due course," a spokeswoman said.

Facebook hit back at its critics, stressing that the level of control people have over advertising on Facebook exceeds industry standards.

"Anyone can opt out of advertising based on the websites they visit and apps they use, and we offer ad preferences, a way for people to add and remove interest categories to improve the ads they see on Facebook," added a spokesman.

It is understood the move is being planned to make ads that appear on a user's newsfeed even more relevant to them.

However, TACD claimed Facebook's proposed data collection expansion directly contradicts its previous statements that it does not track users across the web.

It also accused the giant of misrepresenting the amount of control users will be able to exert over their privacy settings.

"The Irish data protection audit report promised EU consumers that Facebook was in compliance with better privacy practices, and the company made a series of commitments to the DPA," Mr Rossoglou added.

"In light of that, we question how this new vast expansion of the social network's data collection and user profiling could have been allowed to go forward."

Irish Independent

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