Facebook has announced that it’s teaming up with four of the world’s largest corporate data brokers to “enhance” the ad experience for users. Datalogix, Epsilon, Acxiom, and BlueKai obtain information gathered about users through online means (such as through cookies when users surf the web) as well as through offline means (such as through loyalty cards at supermarkets and product warranty cards)1. Through the new relationship with Facebook, companies will be able to display advertisements to Facebook users based on data that these data brokers have on individuals.
In practical terms, this means that limiting how much information you put on Facebook is not enough to limit how ads are targeted to you on Facebook. Your interests, age, shopping history (including offline), web browsing, location, and much more could be stored by these data brokers and utilized to market to you – even if you’ve been careful not to share this type of information with Facebook.
So, what can users do? If you’re concerned about this practice, you can opt out of the targeted advertisements by individually visiting each of the data broker partners currently working with Facebook. We've got directions below for opting out of each site2.
We also have two general tips:
1. Install an add-on to protect your privacy online. Facebook is using "blind cookie-matching" to match up users of online marketer BlueKai with specific Facebook accounts. We'll explain the mechanics of this more in another post, but for now it's good to know that blocking trackers is a good general practice for stopping this type of tracking. We recommend you use a tool such as Ghostery (now available on Firefox, Safari, Chrome, Opera and Internet Explorer) or Abine's DoNotTrackMe (available in Firefox, Safari, Chrome and Internet Explorer) or AdBlockPlus with EasyPrivacy Lists. See more comprehensive instructions in our 4 Simple Changes to Stop Online Tracking.
2. Avoid giving your phone number and email address to companies when possible. Facebook and these companies are primarily using hashed email addresses to match users between databases, though they may also use hashed phone numbers. If you’re filling out a survey or signing up to receive email updates from a website, consider creating and using a different email address than the one you associate with your Facebook account. Similarly, consider setting up an alternate phone number you can give to companies apart from the phone number you connect with your social media accounts.
Opt Out Instructions:
Note that in general, opting out of data brokers will not necessarily result in your data being removed from their lists. Instead, these companies will generally 'suppress' your information from certain uses -- including, hopefully, in the batches of data sent to Facebook. The process below is rather Byzantine, but you really do need to opt out of all four data brokers separately to get out of this program.
1. To get started, visit Acxiom's Opt Out Form. Then scroll down until you see your "opt-out choices." Here there will be a list of the types of media you would like to opt out of (mail, telemarketing, email, and online advertising). You can check all four, though note that their online advertising opt-out is cookie-based, meaning it will disappear every time you clear your cookies.
2. Certify that you are just a single person.
3. Fill out the form with your personal information. In order to be sure that Acxiom doesn't target advertisements at you through Facebook, you'll want to provide Acxiom with the phone number and email address associated with your Facebook profile. Use the green + signs on the form to add information.
4. Click submit. After you hit submit (and get through a CAPTCHA), you'll be offered a chance to install Acxiom's opt out cookie. You can choose to do this or not, but remember that this is not a persistent method of protecting your privacy: the opt out cookie will disappear as soon as you clear your cookies. See instructions below for opting out of BlueKai for advice on dealing with web tracking.
5. You will then receive an email with a link in it from Acxiom. You can click on this link or else copy and paste it into a new browser window. Visiting this page will take you to another CAPTCHA. Fill this out. Congratulations - you've opted out of Acxiom!
1. To opt out of this program, visit the Datalogix.com privacy page. Scroll down to the word “Choice” and the last sentence in the first paragraph says:
If you wish to opt out of all Datalogix-enabled advertising across channels including direct mail, online, mobile and analytic products, click here.
2. Click there and a form will pop up that asks for your name, address, and email address. Fill this out and click submit.
Datalogix promises that the opt-out will take effect within 30 days. Once you’ve been opted out, Datalogix will no longer include your information in the hashed data they provide to Facebook.
As Epsilon explains on their Consumer Preference Center page, there are several ways to opt out of the Epsilon marketing database:
EMAIL: Email email@example.com and include the following information:
- full name (including middle initial)
- current address
- previous address if you have been at your current address fewer than six months
PHONE: Phone 1.888.780.3869 and leave the above information.
MAIL: Mail the above information to the below addresses:
U.S. Consumers: Epsilon
P.O. Box 1478
Broomfield, CO 80036
Canadian Consumers: Epsilon
41 Metropolitan Rd.
We note that not all of these methods require you to provide an email address. Epsilon may have methods to match your name with your email, but you can also provide your email address to be sure.
Note that opting out doesn't actually remove the data from Epsilon's database but rather just marks it as "suppressed" to they will stop sharing it for marketing purposes. This means that if the information is ever re-submitted, you won't be added back to the list.
Unlike the other data brokers Facebook is working with on this new project, BlueKai does not directly collect data from your offline activities. Instead, they use tracking cookies that collect data about your online browsing habits and then use that information to infer what types of products you might like to buy.
The best way to opt out of this is to use a browser add-on to block third-party tracking. Rather than try to block only BlueKai, we recommend you block all third-party trackers. You can use a tool such as Ghostery (now available on Firefox, Safari, Chrome, Opera and Internet Explorer) or Abine's DoNotTrackMe (available in Firefox, Safari, Chrome and Internet Explorer) or AdBlockPlus with EasyPrivacy Lists. See more comprehensive instructions in our 4 Simple Changes to Stop Online Tracking. For a discussion on the relative efficacy of different anti-tracking tools, check out Stanford researcher Jonathan Mayer's analysis.3
If you've made it this far, then congratulations -- you've managed to get out of Facebook's new data broker-driven targeted marketing, and helped protect yourself from several important data brokers.
You may have noticed that protecting yourself from this type of targeted advertising is cumbersome and complex. The data brokers' opt-out process is unnecessarily complicated, suggesting that the brokers have no confidence people would stay within their program if opt-out were easy. This illustrates the problem--the supposed enhancement of targeted ads is not something the consumers want or would choose if the option were readily available.
Given these challenges, Facebook could do more to help their users, providing an one-click opt-out for those who would like to socialize with their friends without seeing advertisements that are targeted to them based on things they did off of Facebook. With an opt-out on Facebook, you would never find yourself back in the program on Facebook, even if it decided to add another data broker partner.
And Facebook could insist that its partners respect these opt-out across their networks. Facebook has enough market power over the data brokers to really help their users, by encouraging these companies to respect user choice and make it easy for users to opt out.
- 1. Some companies are engaged in strictly-offline data collection, others in strictly-online data collection, while others use a combination.
- 2. Note that some data brokers act as third-party data storage companies, hosting data that is owned by other companies. Opting out through the process described in this blog post will not remove your data from databases in which the broker is merely acting as a service provider for another company's data storage needs.
- 3. You could also install BlueKai's opt out cookie. We don't recommend this because you'll lose the opt-out cookie as soon as you clear your cookies.