FB surveillance: how to unplug

zuckerberg punch

zuckerberg punch


If you aren’t aware that Facebook has expanded the scope of its surveillance of users—read violations into your private affairs—you are

  • not on Facebook, and you don’t care
  • on Facebook, but you still don’t care
  • on Facebook, and you care, but you are just not all there.

Say hello to the Zucker punch. Facebook now intends to track information on its users well beyond their activities on Facebook itself. Their wider use of the internet—app usage, browsing histories, preferred sites—will be tracked, to allow advertisers to inundate them with targeted ads.

On several earlier occasions, Facebook had promised not to do this, and now, as you could have expected, they have reneged.

For a long time now, Facebook has been tracking your activities on the site itself: your likes, your posts, everything else you do. Now the scope of surveillance has expanded. It is like Facebook had earlier bugged your home, but now are bugging your car, your work space, your gym, your favorite department store, your favorite bar … you get the idea?

This means that like God, Google and Yahoo, Facebook now intends to ignore your browser “Do Not Track” settings. And just to drive the point home: that is a gross violation of your right to choose whether you want your online activities to be spied upon.

All of us are now familiar with opt-ins (understatement of the year), where you are asked to submit your email address and join mail lists, usually in return for a free gift. You are allowed to exercise free choice, right? You need not opt in if you don’t want to.

Yes, and then there is the other version: you “opt in” without knowing it when you provide your email address for a seemingly innocuous reason. Say you buy something online and submit your email address, ostensibly required to enable the seller to keep you informed on the status of your purchase. You have just been had, and free choice be damned.

Facebook reaps this kind of surveillance data. They and the advertisers they collude with protect their butt by giving you opt-out options, usually so unobtrusive you drive yourself nuts trying to find them. You soon stop bothering.

Reflect on this: only 2% of users actively use opt-out options to disengage with advertisers. Tells you something?

Are you reading an interesting post on a site with a Facebook like button? You have just added some grist to the mills of Facebook and its advertisers, whether you clicked on that like button or not.

Are you a voracious reader who frequents online book stores? Expect Facebook advertisers to try their best to turn your home into a library.

Here’s the irony: Facebook and Google and others of their ilk are strenuously objecting to government efforts to milk their data. Of course, they were colluding with governments till they got caught with their pants down. Now, they have found religion: they don’t want to misuse your data. Unless that misuse has commercial benefit. And they want to minimize government surveillance into their own. Governments do not pay for everything, and when they do pay, it is chicken feed compared to what private sector advertisers are willing to pay.

Data reaping is big business, so expect sites like Google and Facebook to get more aggressive as the days go by. Seems Google made something like US$13 billion—yes, thirteen ball-busting billion bucks—from data-based collusion with advertisers.

If you are a Facebook user, are aware of Facebook’s latest virtual rape attempt and are concerned, you can join one of the petition campaigns that are underway to force Facebook to exclude users who sign those petitions from their surveillance. One such petition is here. And it doesn’t end there.

You can take some more practical steps. You can flush people who are tracking you and feeding you unwanted advertisements down the commode.

This site will give you a list of all companies that are tracking you and dumping ads on you. Select all of the companies—or, if you are feeling venturesome—some of them and hit “Submit my choices.”

You have got out of the clutches of all of those companies, and you can relax for a while. Until the next time Facebook comes up with some devious scheme.

But there is a catch. Or two.

  • You have to go through the whole process for each browser you use.
  • You have to go through the whole process every time you clean your browser of cookies.

That is right, every time you clean out the cookies, you opt back in into all the sites you opted out of. And Facebook advertisers are back in your face.

You got any suggestions? Preferably, something that will help prevent sites like Facebook messing around with your private data? Just about everyone I know is waiting for some sure-shot solution that will keep them out of the reach of online surveillance. Something that will help them duck the Zucker punch.

Let us know in the comments.

  • WingedWolfPsion

    Facebook isn’t a public utility. The only way to really opt out, is to leave. You either decide that their service is worth the price they ask for it, including this behavior, or you decide that it is not. You can complain to them, but in the end, why should they listen? Until a better alternative comes along, of course… that will be a game changer.

  • venkyiyer58

    WingedWolfPsion: Absolutely right. The final solution, not just with Facebook, but any other social media site that bugs you, is to just leave. I am not sure, though, whether that would secure the information you are leaving behind. As for a better alternative, it will be a game changer till it goes public, then it will become just another Facebook. At the end of the day, different users may want different things, but the site promoters just want one thing – a booming bottom line, groaning with black ink.

FB surveillance: how to unplug

by Venkatesh Iyer time to read: 3 min