Sensitive Information: Facebook is Using Data Brokers to Find Out More About You


You may have noticed that a slew of new ads have begun to appear on Facebook. This is because Facebook has begun to team up with data brokers to target specific ads to you.

Ultimately, Facebook is doing this to increase their revenues, but we have to ask, does Facebook know too much about us?

Data Brokers and Your Information

In a nutshell, database brokers are large companies that research publicly held information and compile data on individual consumers and then sell this information to companies like Facebook who want this information for marketing purposes.

For example, an online retailer that wants to sell its best customers additional products could buy details about their social media and mobile habits from a data broker to figure out more efficient ways to market to them.

Data brokers compile information about you, such as your age, race, sex, weight, height, marital status, education level, political beliefs, buying habits, household health, vacation dreams, and more. It’s a very lucrative business: Acxiom, a well-known data broker, had over a billion dollars last year in sales.

Other data brokers install a cookie on your computer that tracks the websites you visit, and then turn around and sell this information to whoever wants it.

Data Brokers and Facebook

Facebook is currently working with four data brokers: Acxiom, Datalogix, Epsilon, and BlueKai. Companies who want to use targeted ads on Facebook can use these data brokers to build custom groups and then target specific ads to them.

For example, a company that sells baby apparel can approach a data broker and ask for a list of new parents. The data broker can then create a list of everyone in their database who are new parents and then sends this list to Facebook. Facebook then cross-references this list against their own list of Facebook users and compiles a matching list of new parents who are Facebook users.

The baby apparel company will provide Facebook with a specific ad that Facebook will display to the new parents group. After the ad has run, Facebook will provide the baby apparel company with information about how many users clicked on the ad, their locations, ages, and so on.

But what if you are served ads that contain information about you from actions you took in your life that you are careful not to put on Facebook? Are you okay with Facebook knowing this information about you?

Respecting Your Privacy

Facebook could be doing a lot more to respect your privacy when it comes to targeted ads. For example, Facebook currently does not honor Do Not Track, an option that allows consumers to opt out of advertising tracking when they visit websites.

Also, Facebook has reserved the right to target ads to you even when you are not on Facebook.

In addition, data brokers are attractive targets for hackers. A few years ago Epsilon experienced a major security breach which exposed millions of private email addresses. And data brokers do not have to disclose what information they are collecting about you and selling to the highest bidder.

While Facebook may be increasing its revenue dollars by allowing companies to target ads at you, is it the right thing for them to use companies that freely sell your personal information?


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Kent Lawson

Kent Lawson is the CEO & Chairman of Private Communications Corporation and creator of its flagship software PRIVATE WiFi. He combined his extensive business and technical experience to develop PRIVATE WiFi in 2010. The software is an easy-to-use Virtual Private Network (VPN) that protects your sensitive personal information whenever you’re connected to a public WiFi network. Follow Kent on Twitter: @KentLawson.

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