A recent study by Consumer Reports, in collaboration with The Markup, has unveiled the extensive scale of data tracking aimed at Facebook users. Some users in the study were tracked by as many as 7,000 companies.
A recent study from Consumer Reports engaged 709 volunteers who provided archives of their Facebook user data. Astonishingly, Consumer Reports discovered that 186,892 different companies transmitted data about these users to Facebook. On average, data from each participant was shared by 2,230 companies, with some users’ data being shared by over 7,000 companies.
This examination highlighted a lesser-known form of tracking known as server-to-server tracking, where personal data is transferred directly from a company’s servers to Meta’s servers, alongside the more visible method involving Meta tracking pixels on company websites.
Emil Vazquez, a spokesperson for Mark Zuckerberg’s Meta, defended the company’s data practices, stating: “We offer a number of transparency tools to help people understand the information that businesses choose to share with us, and manage how it’s used.” However, Consumer Reports identified issues with these tools, including unclear data provider identities and companies that service advertisers often disregarding user opt-out requests.
A surprising finding was the pervasive presence of LiveRamp, a data broker, appearing in the data of 96 percent of study participants. The list of companies sharing data with Facebook extends beyond obscure data brokers to include well-known retailers like Home Depot, Macy’s, Walmart, and others, such as Experian and TransUnion’s Neustar, Amazon, Etsy, and PayPal. Notably, LiveRamp did not respond to a request for comment on this matter.
The study’s data came from two main collection types: “events” and “custom audiences.” The latter involves advertisers uploading customer lists to Meta, including email addresses and mobile advertising IDs, to target ads on Meta’s platforms. ‘Events’ describe real-world interactions, like website visits or store purchases, facilitated by Meta’s software in apps, tracking pixels on websites, and server-to-server tracking.
Caitriona Fitzgerald, deputy director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, expressed concern about the extent of tracking, telling The Markup: “This type of tracking which occurs entirely outside of the user’s view is just so far outside of what people expect when they use the internet.” She further noted that “they [consumers] don’t expect Meta to know what stores they walk into or what news articles they’re reading or every site they visit online.”
Read more at Consumer Reports here.
Lucas Nolan is a reporter for Breitbart News covering issues of free speech and online censorship.