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For years, Facebook has played fast and loose with its data collection practices. Even after heightened Congressional oversight and a massive $5 billion fine from the FTC in 2019, Facebook continues to search out loopholes and exceptions so that it can continue to track you, even when you’ve gone into the Facebook app and adjusted your settings to prevent tracking.
Location tracking, one way or another
Case in point: Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg admitted that it tracks user locations, even when tracking services are turned off. In response to a letter from Senator Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) and Senator Chris Coons (D-Delaware), Facebook acknowledged that it used indirect information collected about users – such as location tags on photos – to come up with a surprisingly accurate estimate of where users are. While this form of location tracking is not nearly as accurate as when location tracking is turned “on,” Facebook has become very adept at tracking you wherever you go.
This acknowledgement from Facebook means that there is simply no way for users to prevent Facebook from using your location to serve up relevant ads. In its defense, Facebook says that a certain basic amount of tracking is needed to help provide a superior user experience. For example, by knowing your approximate geographic location, Facebook can alert you when your account has been used or accessed in unusual places. That might be helpful if you think that your Facebook account has been compromised – but does it really justify Facebook lurking in the background wherever you go like some kind of creepy stalker? According to Senators Hawley and Coon, Facebook needs to give users more control over their data.
Playing fast and loose with California’s new data privacy law
Taking a big picture view of Facebook’s data privacy practices, the company continues to twist and contort itself with unconvincing legal arguments. Take, for example, the new California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA), which just went into effect on January 1. The whole point of the new data privacy law is to give users more control over their data, but Facebook’s lawyers are already arguing that the company’s Pixel-based advertising system should be exempt. As Facebook sees it, the company is not actually “selling” your data to advertisers using its Pixel web tracker. Rather, Facebook is “providing a service” to advertisers, and thus should be able to wiggle its way out of full compliance with the CCPA.
Time to delete Facebook?
The fact that Facebook can never be honest with users, and the fact that Facebook is always looking for a way to game the system to its advantage, is one big reason why so many users are fed up with Facebook. While Facebook has made some commendable changes to its data collection practices, it’s also very clear that the company continues to do business as usual.
If Facebook can’t track you directly, it will do so indirectly. And it will continue to argue that it is complying with the law as it does so. The fact that Facebook is already trying to evade some of its responsibility under the CCPA could be the final straw for many Facebook users. Is it finally time to delete the Facebook app on your smartphone in 2020?