Turning Off Facebook Location Tracking Doesn’t Stop It From Tracking Your Location

Illustration: Chelsea Beck (Gizmodo)










Aleksandra Korolova has turned off Facebook’s access to her location in every way that she can. She has turned off location history in the Facebook app and told her iPhone that she “Never” wants the app to get her location. She doesn’t “check-in” to places and doesn’t list her current city on her profile.

Despite all this, she constantly sees location-based ads on Facebook. She sees ads targeted at “people who live near Santa Monica” (where she lives) and at “people who live or were recently near Los Angeles” (where she works as an assistant professor at the University of Southern California). When she traveled to Glacier National Park, she saw an ad for activities in Montana, and when she went on a work trip to Cambridge, Massachusetts, she saw an ad for a ceramics school there.

Korolova thought Facebook must be getting her location information from the IP addresses she used to log in from, which Facebook says it collects for security purposes. (It wouldn’t be the first time Facebook used information gathered for security purposes for advertising ones; advertisers can target Facebook users with the phone number they provided for two-factor protection of their account.) As the New York Times recently reported, lots of apps are tracking users’ movements with surprising granularity. The Times suggested turning off location services in your phone’s privacy settings to stop the tracking, but even then the apps can still get location information, by looking at the wifi network you use or your IP address.

The question is whether Facebook should be held to a higher standard given its one-on-one relationship with its users. Should users be able to tell Facebook, ‘Hey, I don’t want you tracking my location for ad purposes’? And then should Facebook not let advertisers target those people based on their locations? Kolokova thinks that should be the case.

“The locations that a person visits and lives in reveal a great deal about them,” she writes on Medium. “Their surreptitious collection and use in ad targeting can pave the way to ads that are harmful, target people when they are vulnerable or enable harassment and discrimination.”

At this point, Facebook disagrees. It feels IP address is a rough approximation of location that is forgivable to use. To avoid this, you could stop using the Facebook app on your phone (where IP addresses tend to be more precisely mapped) or use a VPN when you log into Facebook. Or, of course, there’s always the option to quit Facebook altogether.

Read the complete article on Gizmodo here.