Facebook admits to lawmakers that they need to track users at all time

Senator Josh Hawley of Missouri and Senator Chris Coons of Delaware asked Facebook to respect the decision of users and to keep their locations private.

Facebook has now issued a response to those two senators explaining why it tracks users’ locations even when their tracking services are turned off.

The letter from Facebook, dated December 12, 2019, explains the three ways that Facebook is able to estimate users’ locations used in target ads even when those users have chosen to reject location tracking through their smartphone’s operating system.

Facebook does so by deducing users’ general locations from context clues like locations they tag in photos, as well as their devices’ IP addresses. Even though this data is not as precise as Facebook would collect if the user had location tracking enabled, the company said that it uses the information for several purposes. Those purposes include alerting users when their accounts have been accessed in an unusual place and clamping down on the spread of false information.

Facebook doesn’t currently allow users to turn off location-based ads, although it does allow users to block Facebook from collecting their precise location.

The company states that, “By necessity, virtually all ads on Facebook are targeted based on location, though most commonly ads are targeted to people with a particular city or some larger region. Otherwise, people in Washington, D.C. would receive ads for services or events in London, and vice versa.”

Senator Hawley tweeted a response in regards to the letter, stating that Facebook “admits it. Turn off ‘location services’ and they’ll STILL track your location to make money (by sending you ads). There is no opting out. No control over your personal information. That’s Big Tech. And that’s why Congress needs to take action.”

Senator Coons also released a statement, “I appreciate Facebook’s attempts to inform users about their privacy choices. However, I am concerned that these efforts are insufficient and even misleading in light of how Facebook is actually treating user data. In their response to our letter, Facebook confirmed that there is no way for users to prevent Facebook from using their location and serving them ads based on that information, even when location access has been turned off. Facebook claims that users are in control of their own privacy, but in reality, users aren’t even given an option to stop Facebook from collecting and monetizing their location information. The American people deserve to know how tech companies use their data, and I will continue working to find solutions to protect Americans’ sensitive information.”

The letter in question can be found here: https://twitter.com/birnbaum_e/status/1207000504129245184/photo/1W

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