Image credit Kevin Krejci
Facebook is trying desperately to collapse the boundary between online and IRL. Not content to track its users (and the rest of us) as they go about the internet, the company has its sights set on your offline purchasing habits.
Soon enough, when you pop down to the nearest drug store in Manhattan, buy a bunch of Cokes, and scan your Duane Reade customer loyalty card, you may return to your open Facebook page to see ads from competitor Pepsi trying to lure you over to the other side.
Having learned from a failed 2011 attempt to convince its users to tell the company when they entered stores in exchange for “Deals” at those establishments, the social networking Goliath announced late last month that it isn’t going to be asking people to opt-in to real world tracking anymore. It’s simply doing it — with the help of some of the biggest and most powerful companies in the country that you’ve likely never heard of.
From Ad Age:
Use a loyalty card for discounts at the drug store? The ads you see on Facebook could start looking familiar.
Facebook is testing out a new kind of ad targeting that will let brands market to users based on what they've bought in stores, according to execs briefed on their plans.
Facebook is partnering with data giants including Epsilon, Acxiom and Datalogix to allow brands to match data gathered through shopper loyalty program to individual Facebook profiles, much like it's done previously with marketers' customer data from their CRM databases. Datalogix, a company with a rich trove of loyalty-program data, gained notice last fall after Facebook partnered with the firm to decipher whether users exposed to ads on the social network ended up buying any of those products in stores.
As Rainey Reitman explains,
In practical terms, this means that limiting how much information you put on Facebook is not enough to limit how ads are targeted to you on Facebook. Your interests, age, shopping history (including offline), web browsing, location, and much more could be stored by these data brokers and utilized to market to you – even if you’ve been careful not to share this type of information with Facebook.
They know nearly everything about you, but you probably don’t know they exist
You may have never heard of companies like Acxiom and Datalogix before, but chances are they’ve heard about you.
In 2012, Massachusetts Congressman Ed Markey sent letters to the nine largest data brokers in the country, among them Acxiom, asking the firms to disclose what kind of data they retain on us, and to tell the public how many of us are caught in their data webs.
That Markey investigation prompted a flurry of government attention to the data broker problem, including an FTC inquiry.
The congressman’s inquiry came at around the same time as a New York Times story which revealed that Acxiom alone maintains wide-ranging demographic, criminal, and other information on 500 million people. Each person’s digital data dossier at the firm contains about 1,500 data points, culled from other private sources and from the government, the Times reported.
Alarmingly, some of the data Acxiom holds about us are things we don’t even know about ourselves, including whether or not we are on the State Department’s Terrorist Exclusion list.
Acxiom told Congressman Markey that it sells our data to a diverse group of corporations and government agencies, including:
Data brokers like Acxiom have long come under fire from privacy advocates, who accuse the companies of being secretive, unaccountable behemoths that exercise incredible power over the ordinary lives of millions of people. As anyone with a pulse knows, Facebook’s privacy problems have been substantially more public. The joining up of these forces could spell further trouble for our privacy interests.
But there's (a little) hope. If you don’t want the data brokers and Facebook to “enhance” your advertising consumption “experience” by collapsing your physical and online worlds, you can take some (admittedly arduous) steps to opt-out.
You could also quit Facebook. But that won’t stop the company from tracking you online, or the data brokers from doing everything they can to download your life into data points for profit.
Luckily for us, congress appears to be taking notice of the data broker problem. If you are outraged by anything you’ve just read, it couldn't hurt to give your representatives a call to let them know you'd like to see some action.