Facebook launched a transparency tool this week that will give people a little more information about how its targeted ads work (good!). Now you can see more details about why you’re seeing an ad in your feed, how it is linked to an ad agency or data broker, and how to opt out of interest-based ad campaigns run by businesses that have your information. The bad news is that looking at it may end up just making you feel worse about how your data is passed around by third-party data brokers — credit reporting bureaus and marketing agencies — like Halloween candy.
Previously, Facebook provided very limited information about why ads appear in your feed (“You are an existing customer” or “H&M wants to reach women ages 16 and older who live in the United States”). It didn’t really explain that ad targeting is far more sophisticated than simply identifying age and location.
BuzzFeed News recently reported on Facebook’s baffling “Advertisers who uploaded a contact list with your info” page (now found under Settings > Account Settings > Ads > Advertisers and Businesses) — a list of brands that have either collected your data or purchased it from someone else. These lists often include seemingly random local businesses from around the country with whom you have never interacted (think a car dealership in a state you have never set foot in).
It turns out that these local businesses acquired your personal information from data brokers that make a business of collecting and reselling it. Consumers know little about how their information is traded, and digital privacy and data collection has become a growing area of interest among federal and state regulators. Now Facebook said it will show when an advertiser used a data broker or ad agency to add you to a customer list. (TechCrunch had reported earlier this year that this feature was in the works.)
Starting this week, and rolling out to all users soon, if you view your Facebook Ad Preferences, you’ll see a list of companies under “Businesses who have uploaded and shared a list with your info.” This is the first time Facebook is actually showing you which marketing companies and data brokers have your data. And on any specific ad in your timeline, if you click on the three dots in the upper-right corner, you’ll see the company that uploaded you to its list.
It may surprise you just how many of these there are. I counted 79 (!!!) of these data brokers and marketing agencies on my list — businesses I had never heard of: Applied Analytics, BrandBastion, Strike Social, and Camelot Strategic Marketing & Media.
“I think it is a good evolution of our transparency tools, and what we’re doing is listening to people’s feedback,” Rob Leathern, director of product management at Facebook, told BuzzFeed News. “We heard that even though we’d made some improvements over the last year, the tools are somewhat difficult to navigate and not as comprehensive as they’d like.”