Facebook Changes the Way it Tracks and Serves You Ads

The social network is giving you more control over ad preferences, but also plans to follow your activity around the Web.

Facebook is changing the way it shows and tells you about ads in two major ways that seem to be at complete odds with each other.

The first change gives you the option to see why a specific ad is being shown to you. You can click through to your interest profile and make changes so you'll see less irrelevant ads and more appealing ones. If you've liked a bunch of restaurant pages in your city, you'll probably see a lot of restaurant ads. You can change your settings to stop seeing those ads by removing restaurants from your list of interests. You'll soon start seeing blue arrows on the ads that appear in your News Feed on the Web and in the Facebook app. Tapping that arrow will display a dropdown menu with an option to see why Facebook is showing you that ad.

This change in ad targeting is a sign that Facebook wants to give you more control over your experience on the site.

The second change strips some of that control away. Facebook said Thursday it will start tracking your Web and app activity to show you ads. Up until now, the network has relied on your Facebook likes and interests to serve up ads it thinks you'll like. Facebook isn't the only site to follow you around the Web, collecting your searches to sell you things (hello, Google). But Facebook in recent months has demonstrated a commitment to privacy with initiatives like Anonymous Login that don't jibe well with Web-tracking.

Facebook says users can feel free to opt out with the Digital Advertising Alliance opt-out page or the tracking settings that iOS and Android offer. but it's unclear how up-front the network will be with users about the change and the options they have. And if you think you're in the clear because you have the do-not-track setting turned on, Advertising Agereported that Facebook will not be honoring do not track. (To be fair, do not track has its own set of efficacy problems.)

It seems like Facebook anticipated the inevitable outrage over its new ad-tracking policy by simultaneously announcing both changes. The ad preferences tool will be available for most U.S. users in about two weeks.

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