Two US Senators have gained the upper-hand over Facebook in a patient game of chess which could see further action from authorities.
Responding to a letter from Democrat Senator Christopher Coons and Republican Senator Josh Hawley, Facebook Deputy Chief Privacy Officer Rob Sherman has confirmed Facebook use geo-location data even if the user has used opted-out through the devices operating system.
The reason behind this disregard for consent; it wouldn’t be able to serve ads to the user if it didn’t have an idea of location.
“When location services is off, Facebook may still understand people’s locations using information people share through their activities on Facebook or through IP addresses and other network connections they use,” Sherman said in the letter to the Senators.
“By necessity, virtually all ads on Facebook are targeted based on location, though most commonly ads are targeted to people within a particular city or some larger region.”
There is a logic to the Facebook response, though that does not give the app the right to ignore the fact the user may have opted-out. Facebook can still serve ads to people based on other aspects of the profile, which might present a challenge for the team.
What Coons and Hawley have done here is play a very strategic political move. Politicians in the US have been attempting to hold Facebook accountable for years, though the social media firm always seems to wriggle out of tight spots. This time, however, the two politicians have forced Facebook to admit it is ignoring opt-outs from the user. Coons and Hawley have handed a half-tied noose to Facebook and asked it to finish the job.
That said, Facebook has seemingly escaped previous scandals without severe or long-term damage (is it that worse off after the Cambridge Analytica scandal?) and may well do so again. It’s PR and disaster management gurus are proving to be some of the most competent in the industry, though there are very well-practiced so perhaps this is unsurprising.
If you are someone who wants to make sure Facebook never tracks your location, there is a way, though it is difficult. Firstly, you will have to opt-out at OS level, then find the opt-out in the application. Secondly, you will have to make sure you never tag a location in your own posts or be tagged in a friend’s post which links to a location. And don’t even think about checking-in to that new, trendy restaurant, or searching for a bargain on Market Place.
Now thanks to AI, it would also be helpful never to have a photo with a recognisable landmark in the background, or business which can be tracked. With machine vision and image recognition improving significantly day-on-day, you might only need to be stood in-front of a semi-famous painting, or the coffee shop on the corner to give away your location.
After all this, it might also be worth downloading a VPN.
Facebook has been ducking and diving past the swipes politicians and authorities have been throwing in recent months, but Coons and Hawley have made it a lot more difficult. Facebook has admitted to ignoring opt-outs, removing a lot of wiggle-room.