Facebook users cannot avoid location-based ads

Originally Published: April 1, 2019 Last Updated: April 1, 2019

A 2018 academic study found out that Facebook targeted users with location-based advertisements even if they blocked the company from accessing location services on their phones and configured all relevant settings within the app to maximise location privacy.

  • While a Facebook user was given the illusion of control over location privacy, privacy researcher Aleksandra Korolova found that they could not decide to stop the social network knowing where they are altogether or stop the platform's ability to advertise based on that knowledge.
  • Guardian reporter Julia Carrie Wong too discovered that the site “knows that I took reporting trips to Montana and Seattle and San Diego, despite the fact that I have never allowed it to track me by GPS."
  • Korlova said her study proved false Facebook's claims to advertisers that it learned user locations from their IP address, wifi and bluetooth.
  • Facebook said in a statement: “Facebook does not use wifi data to determine your location for ads if you have location services turned off. We do use IP and other information such as check-ins and current city from your profile. We explain this to people, including in our Privacy Basics site and on the About Facebook Ads site.”
  • Facebook was also particularly concerned about appearing "scary" while scaling up its location services. “If a negative meme were to develop around Facebook Bluetooth beacons, businesses could become reticent to accept them from us", wrote a Facebook product manager.