Each Facebook User is Monitored by Thousands of Companies

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A new study looks at who is send­ing inform­a­tion about your online activ­ity to Face­book

This article was copub­lished with Consumer Reports, an inde­pend­ent, nonprofit organ­iz­a­tion that works side by side with consumers for truth, trans­par­ency and fair­ness in the market­place. Learn more here.

By now most inter­net users know their online activ­ity is constantly tracked. No one should be shocked to see ads for items they previ­ously searched for, or to be asked if their data can be shared with an unknown number of “part­ners.”

But what is the scale of this surveil­lance? Judging from data collec­ted by Face­book and newly described in a unique study by non-profit consumer watch­dog Consumer Reports, it’s massive, and examin­ing the data may leave you with more ques­tions than answers.

Using a panel of 709 volun­teers who shared archives of their Face­book data, Consumer Reports found that a total of 186,892 compan­ies sent data about them to the social network. On aver­age, each parti­cipant in the study had their data sent to Face­book by 2,230 compan­ies. That number varied signi­fic­antly, with some panel­ists’ data list­ing over 7,000 compan­ies provid­ing their data. 

The Markup helped Consumer Reports recruit parti­cipants for the study. Parti­cipants down­loaded an archive of the last three years of their data from their Face­book settings, then provided it to Consumer Reports.

By collect­ing data this way, the study was able to exam­ine a form of track­ing that is normally hidden: so-called “server-to-server” track­ing, in which personal data goes from a company’s serv­ers to Meta’s serv­ers. Another form of track­ing, in which Meta track­ing pixels are placed on company websites, is visible to users’ browsers.

Because the data came from a self-selec­ted group of users, and because the results were not demo­graph­ic­ally adjus­ted, the study does not “make any claims about how repres­ent­at­ive this sample is of the U.S. popu­la­tion as a whole, ” Consumer Reports noted. Parti­cipants were also likely more privacy conscious and tech­nic­ally inclined than typical users and more likely to be members of Consumers Reports.

Despite its limit­a­tions, the study offers a rare look, using data directly from Meta, on how personal inform­a­tion is collec­ted and aggreg­ated online.

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Foto: https://carlo­cade­nas.com/