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February 5, 2013

You Are Being Tracked, Facebook Tells Its Users

Social Networking Site to Label Ads that Follow Its Users

Facebook is tracking you and it is going to be upfront about it, too.

After months of public and private complaints from ad agencies and advertisers, the social networking site has come to an agreement with the Council of Better Business Bureau to let its users know which advertisers are tracking them. Facebook will soon begin displaying a small, blue AdChoices icon on its display ads served through its ad exchange.

The agreement pertains to advertisements shown to Facebook members, based on what they view online. Known as interest-based advertising, the system gathers and stores Web-surfing habits in the user’s browser. This information then allows advertisers to determine which ads may be most relevant to the user based on his or her interests.

For instance, a user, who has been browsing baby clothing websites, logs into Facebook and an ad pops up urging her to buy that cute little layette set she saw on one of the e-commerce sites she had been perusing. If she were to hover her mouse over the ad, the blue AdChoice icon would pop up, indicating she was being tracked.

AdChoices  Thanks

AdChoices logo

According to AdChoices, interest-based advertising doesn’t depend on personal information such as e-mail addresses, phone numbers or photographs.

“The AdChoices Icon provides ‘clear, meaningful and prominent’ notice and choice required by the Self-Regulatory Principles for Online Behavioral Advertising (OBA Principles) when consumers are served ads based on their interests as inferred from prior Web browsing activity over time across multiple websites,” reads the Council of Better Business Bureau website. “When consumers click on the Icon, they are taken to a page where interest-based advertising is explained and where they can choose to opt out of interest-based ads.”

Opting out is easy, according to AdChoices, although it must be done separately for each advertiser. Clicking on the icon gives the user access to “consumer choice mechanisms” that allow him or her to opt out.

Facebook, which has declined to say exactly how many advertisers it has teamed up with for the project, has had little to say on the matter.

“At Facebook, we work hard to build transparency and control into each of our products, including our advertising offerings,” chief privacy officer Erin Egan said in an e-mailed statement to The New York Times.

Facebook remains under pressure from its investors to make more money and advertising has been one of the social network’s main focuses. The firm brought in $5 billion in advertising revenue last year. Facebook also continues to push mobile advertising  — it made 23 percent of its advertising revenue from mobile in the last quarter, up from 14 percent in third quarter.