What Does Facebook Selling Your Data Mean For Privacy?

Dann Albright 23-07-2014

Facebook has been the subject of a number of very concerning news stories over the past few years, from not deleting user data to conducting and publishing emotionally manipulative research How Do You Feel About Being In Facebook's Psych Experiment? [Weekly Facebook Tips] You've probably heard about the latest scandal from the Facebook world: Facebook has been experimenting on users and playing with their emotions. Yes, really. Read More . But the social giant is getting ready to take it to a whole new level: selling your browsing data directly to advertising companies.


“But wait . . . doesn’t it already sell tons of data Facebook Makes Money Out of Your Data, Why Shouldn’t You? There are so many free services online because companies can profit from the data you provide. Companies like Facebook sell (or buy) your data to third parties, while ones like Google use your data to... Read More to advertisers?” you might be asking. Yes, it does. But there’s an important distinction that many people don’t realize: right now, the information that Facebook sells to advertisers has to do with your activity on Facebook: pages you like, people you follow, apps you connect, and so on. Until now, Facebook hasn’t sold any of the data it collects about your browsing outside of Facebook.

But that’s about to change: in an announcement on June 12, Facebook announced that it would begin selling users’ browsing data directly to advertisers, and that it would roll out new ads over the following weeks, meaning that soon you’ll see more targeted ads on Facebook, and advertisers will know even more about your and your habits, supposedly because when asking users about how ads can be improved, they said “they want to see ads that are more relevant to their interests.” (

What Does Facebook Selling Your Data Mean For Privacy? advertising billboard

Starting soon, if you’ve been searching for something—awesome coffee-making gear Buy This: The Greatest Gear For Making Awesome Coffee If your coffee tastes like crap, you're doing it wrong. Great coffee doesn't have to be expensive. Read More , for example—on Google or Amazon, you’ll notice more ads on Facebook for products that match your search. They could even be for the same brand of coffee maker that you’d been looking at just a moment ago. If this idea makes you uncomfortable, you’re not the only one. It’s already difficult to manage privacy with Facebook How To Stop Facebook From Tracking Everything You Do [Facebook Weekly Tips] Facebook has basically made a business out of knowing as much as they can possibly find out about everyone. So, tracking your behaviour online and offline makes perfect sense to them. However, it might not... Read More , and it’s likely to get more so.

Of course, this move isn’t hugely surprising—Facebook is the best example of a site where the users, and not the site itself, are the most valuable commodity You Are The Product, Not The Client: The Personal Data Economy Explained As Andrew Lewis once said "If you're not paying for something, you're not the customer; you're the product being sold". Think about the implications of that quote for a moment – how many free services... Read More , something that’s been talked about a lot as of late. And if Facebook has taught us anything, it’s that they’ll take whatever steps they want to make more money, because there’s no chance in hell that the 1.2 billion monthly users of the service will close their accounts.


Why Is This A Big Deal?

Because Facebook has always been collecting and selling data, it might not seem like a major issue that they’re now selling browsing information directly to advertisers. But this could signal a big shift in how Facebook interacts with its users and their data.

Online privacy and data security is a big deal Lessons Learned From Don't Spy On Us: Your Guide To Internet Privacy Read More , and people are starting to take note, calling for increased transparency and more limits on the power of companies to sell our data. Public opinion seems to lean toward the “give us more control over our own data, and don’t sell it if we don’t want you to” side.

The fact that Facebook is acting directly in contradiction to these requests in spite of public opinion shows a brazenness that some people weren’t expecting, and it creates some serious worries for privacy in the future. It’s not difficult to imagine Facebook continuing to gather more information and sell it to advertisers.



We have to ask ourselves when we will take action: when Facebook starts listening to our conversations through our cell phones and serving ads based on the products we talk about? When it starts using our webcams to see which brands of clothing we wear? These might seem far-fetched, but so did tracking a user’s every move online and selling the records to advertisers, just a few years ago.

In addition to the higher-level privacy concerns, there’s the “creepy” factor. A lot of people find it unnerving and creepy when they see ads on Facebook for things that they were just looking at on another site. And while Facebook claims that increased ad targeting is something that users are asking for, I haven’t seen any proof of this yet. (If you’re on either side of this particular argument, please leave a comment—I’d love to get a feel for how MakeUseOf readers feel about this issue.)

Why Does Facebook Have My Browsing History?

In short, because Facebook is ubiquitous across the web. Especially when you stay logged in, which most people probably do. If you’re on a page with a “Like” button, Facebook knows that you’re on that page, even if you don’t click that button—Facebook’s terms of service state that it can capture browsing information from these sites and use it for “security purposes” and to deliver ads.



As we learned recently, by agreeing to the terms and conditions of using Facebook, we’ve agreed to a huge amount of data being turned over and signing off on the social network’s seemingly limitless ability to do with it whatever it wants, sparking a lot of interest in blocking Facebook and other social networks from tracking you How To Block Facebook And Other Social Networks From Tracking You Online Whenever you visit a site with a Like, Tweet or +1 button, you're actually sharing data with Facebook, Twitter or Google. And that's not all. There are hundreds of advertising and data collection companies that... Read More .

What Can I Do?

Although they haven’t made it easy, Facebook has offered an opt-out of this “service.” To find it, you’ll have to go to the Digital Advertising Alliance website and add Facebook to the list of companies that you don’t want customizing your ads (you can proceed directly to the Choices page to make this update). Make sure that any cookie-blocking software is disabled when you do this.

While you’re there, you might want to select a number of the other companies that are collecting and using your data to serve ads.

Unfortunately, the Digital Advertising Alliance opt-out isn’t known for being particularly effective, and your opt-out choices could potentially be lost when you clear your browsing data (or switch to another browser). So you might want to bookmark that page and check it regularly.



If you use the Facebook mobile app, you’ll have to take a few additional steps, as well. On iOS, open up the settings and go to General > Restrictions > Advertising and hit the switch for Limit Ad Tracking. In Android, you’ll have to go to Google Settings > Ads and select Opt out of interest-based ads.


Remember that just because you’re not allowing Facebook to use your browsing data to customize your ads doesn’t mean that they’re not collecting that data: they still have an eye on you, and they’re keeping a lot of data stored somewhere.

To fight back against this, you’ll have to take part in the larger discussion about privacy and data security—sign petitions, support privacy-focused organizations, and make your voice heard. If you want to take immediate action, you can use extensions like Ghostery Control Your Web Content: Essential Extensions to Block Tracking and Scripts The truth is, there is always someone or something monitoring your Internet activity and content. Ultimately, the less information we let these groups have the safer we'll be. Read More or Do Not Track Plus Control Your Web Content: Essential Extensions to Block Tracking and Scripts The truth is, there is always someone or something monitoring your Internet activity and content. Ultimately, the less information we let these groups have the safer we'll be. Read More  if you’re not concerned about the ethical implications AdBlock, NoScript & Ghostery - The Trifecta Of Evil Over the past few months, I've been contacted by a good number of readers who have had problems downloading our guides, or why they can't see the login buttons or comments not loading; and in... Read More . And, of course, check out our guide to Facebook privacy The Complete Facebook Privacy Guide Privacy on Facebook is a complex beast. Many important settings are hidden out of sight. Here's a complete look at every Facebook privacy setting you need to know about. Read More .

What do you think about this move by Facebook? Does it upset you? Are you happy that you’ll be seeing more targeted ads? Do you feel that it’s a violation of your privacy? Share your thoughts below—I’d really like to hear what you think!

Image credits: Advertising – Green Billboard on the Rising Sun Background via Shutterstock, SeniorLiving.Org via Flickr,

Related topics: Facebook, Online Privacy.

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  1. Eleanor Williamson
    February 23, 2020 at 8:31 pm

    Thank you so much for this information. yes I am very concerned about this I hate all the over load of Adds and snooping which Is why I have turned off my news feed as It's to distracting. I am also getting tired of having to play dodgems with adds on face book because It upsets the purpose of being on face book to connect with friends and family. If they don't reduce the adds I will get off face book and tell all my friends to do so also. the privacy invasion is to high a cost.

  2. green onesie for adults
    September 13, 2018 at 2:44 pm

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  3. Nick T
    August 2, 2017 at 3:31 pm

    I'm sorry, I think I'm missing the problem here... They're using our information to try to sell us products that we have complete control over if we buy or not. I would understand the outrage if they were blackmailing individuals or doing something nefarious to selected groups of people but it looks like they are just making advertisers pay for us to use Facebook. Can someone explain to me where the problem is? I don't think they care about our naughty preferences or watching us sit on the couch watching TV.

  4. Javanna
    July 17, 2016 at 5:52 pm

    WOW! thank you for this article because I thought it was eerie feeling when ads for the stuff I was just browsing for appear on the side of my fb. i always sign out and will look into the proposed strategies. Do they sell our info from other apps they own such as IG

    • Dann Albright
      July 25, 2016 at 7:47 pm

      I don't know any specifics on their other apps, but it's a safe bet that they're selling that info, too. It's just too valuable for them not to!

  5. Yenki
    July 25, 2014 at 3:27 pm

    The Matrix is working, and ... many people like it! ... There is no AI, just human greed.
    Civil rights are eroded a bit each day ... their advocates do not have millions to make lobby.

    Thanks for the very interesting article.

    • Dann A
      July 27, 2014 at 2:16 am

      Glad you liked the article! Thanks for reading.

  6. Jan F
    July 23, 2014 at 4:41 pm

    To be fair, none of it should really be news to anyone. Facebook is a billion dollar company who never charged you for using it. The money has to come from somewhere and nobody would invest into FB if they didn't get a dime out of it.

    I just took a look at the current Data Use Policy of FB and it's interesting how the put stuff in there that actually allows a snowball effect:
    "(Affiliates) We may share information we receive with businesses that are legally part of the same group of companies that Facebook is part of, or that become part of that group (often these companies are called affiliates)."

    "(Service Providers) In some cases we provide the service jointly with another company, such as the Facebook Marketplace. In all of these cases our partners must agree to only use your information consistent with the agreement we enter into with them, as well as this Data Use Policy."

    So basically Facebook will share data with their close partners, those partners being bound to the same Data Use Policy are allowed to further share your information with their close partners.

    • Dann A
      July 27, 2014 at 2:15 am

      I think a large proportion of people won't be surprised to hear this, but a lot of people just don't think about it, and might be taken aback by the level of detail that Facebook can share with ad providers. Either way, it's good for people to know exactly what sort of information is being collected and sold.

      Thanks for weighing in!

    • Jan F
      July 27, 2014 at 7:56 pm

      No problem. I do like the article and hope it will remind people about the other side of social networks and the data mining happening on the internet.

      It's actually one argument I always make on the government surveillance uproar - Gov vs. FB and it's unknown depth of partners... how can one be against one but ok with the other? But that's a totally different topic.

    • Dann A
      July 30, 2014 at 8:14 pm

      It is difficult to differentiate between corporate surveillance and government surveillance. In fact, the two are often the same, I think. When we're okay with companies using our data, we leave the door open to government subpoena of that information.

      That's a tough issue, because companies often make it valuable for us to share our information with them. I use grocery-store loyalty cards, for example—so they're tracking where I'm shopping and what I'm buying and extrapolating information from that. If the government decides to pressure Waitrose or Tesco to turn over their data, then that's in their hands.

  7. ReadandShare
    July 23, 2014 at 4:12 pm

    If the above bothers you (as it does me):

    1. Use FB sparingly -- and sign off when done. A pawword manager makes signing back on a breeze.

    2. Use blockers like Adblock (or Adblock Plus) to block ads and Ghostery to block trackers.

    Not hard at all. I don't ever remember seeing ads when I visit FB.

    • Dann A
      July 27, 2014 at 2:14 am

      These are definitely two viable strategies for dealing with these issues. I think I read something recently about how signing out of Facebook won't completely keep them from tracking you, but I don't remember where I saw it; I'll have ot see if I can find it again.

      Thanks for reading!