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Facebook Is Using Your Data Whether You Like It Or Not

The European Commission is cracking down on the way Facebook gathers information about European users. A new EC Directive will ban targeted advertising unless users specifically say they want it. This is great news for European Facebook users, especially after the case of 24-year-old Austrian law student Max Schrems who, in late October, started an online campaign aimed at forcing Facebook to abide by European data privacy laws.

The real question is: Why isn’t this happening in America? All 800 million Facebook users agree to let the company use their personal information.

European Commission Vice President Viviane Redding called for streamlining of the continent’s laws regarding how service providers protect personal data. ReadWriteWeb’s Scott Fulton III reports:

“Rather than a single, federalized approach (which Reding is quoted as having called for, and which in actuality she did not), she spoke on behalf of new guidelines that would hold each European service provider responsible not for 27 member states’ laws simultaneously, but only the laws in that provider’s native country.”

All the data Facebook harvests is stored at data centers in the U.S., like this new one in Oregon. Facebook has information about a user’s friends, family, educational background in addition to Facebook activity such as “likes” and everything that gets posted to Facebook Walls. With the integration of Spotify and social news apps for The Guardian and The Washington Post, Facebook also has data about what its users are reading and listening to – if they care to use those apps. Messages and “chats” are stored, too, even if the user deletes them.

Facebook denies tracking peoples’ behavior to serve advertising. It also denies selling users’ personal information to third parties. Facebook claims that advertisers only see “anonymous and aggregate information,” using that to serve up targeted ads. It said that it does not target individual users.

We reached out to a Facebook spokesperson specifically about the Telegraph story.

“The Sunday Telegraph article is sensational and misrepresents both how Facebook’s advertising model works and the current advertising privacy debate across Europe. Crucially, people on Facebook have given consent to receive targeted advertising through our terms when they sign up to our free service – unlike other online advertising models. We have spent considerable time and effort building an ads model which allows people to see relevant advertising whilst respecting their privacy.

We are fully compliant with EU law, have our international headquarters in Dublin and unlike some other online services, we do not use tracking technology to serve adverts. Our system only provides advertisers with anonymised and aggregated information for the purpose of targeting ads. We do not share people’s names with an advertiser without a person’s explicit consent and we never sell personal information to third parties.”

Yet with an IPOin the works, and Facebook’s move toward becoming self-sufficient, there’s no denying that advertising on the site has increased. Earlier this year, sponsored stories started showing up in the right rail. Facebook recently added sponsored stories to the news ticker (a.k.a. stalker feed).

Last month, the Federal Trade Commission expressed concern about Facebook privacy. In early November, the Wall Street Journal reported that Facebook was nearing a settlement with the FTC on charges that they had acted in a deceptive manner regarding the site’s privacy settings.

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The ReadWrite Editorial policy involves closely monitoring the tech industry for major developments, new product launches, AI breakthroughs, video game releases and other newsworthy events. Editors assign relevant stories to staff writers or freelance contributors with expertise in each particular topic area. Before publication, articles go through a rigorous round of editing for accuracy, clarity, and to ensure adherence to ReadWrite's style guidelines.

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