Privacy Chutzpah: A Story for the Onion?

Privacy Chutzpah: A Story for the Onion?

I recently received an email promoting a campaign by a group called Some Of Us, an organization that generates petitions opposing various activities of large companies. This campaign was directed at Facebook, calling on the social network to not sell user data to advertisers. Facebook has recently announced plans to allow advertisers to target ads to Facebook users based on the web sites users have visited. Facebook is not selling user data to advertisers, but I can understand the confusion. Behavioral advertising is complicated, and although selling user data to advertisers is very different than choosing ads for users based on their web surfing, it’s not uncommon for critics to use broad language to blast targeted ads in general.

How Ads Work on Facebook from Facebook on Vimeo.

The surprise was what I found when I examined the privacy policy for the Some of Us site. In a move worthy of an Onion fake news story, the Some of Us policy discloses that it works with ad networks to retarget ads to users on the web after they visit the Some of Us site. Yup! Some of Us does exactly what it is calling on users to protest to Facebook. A quick scan of the site using popular tracking cookie scanner Ghostery finds the code for several ad companies, including leading data broker Axciom.

Some of Us also complains that the Facebook opt-out process, where Facebook links users to the industry central opt-out site found at aboutads.info, is too tedious. But Some of Us doesn’t even bother to provide its visitors with a link or an url to opt-out, as the behavioral advertising code enforced by the Better Business Bureau requires. Some of Us just tells visitors they can visit the Network Advertising Initiative opt out page, leaving them to research how to find the opt-out page on their own.

It gets better. Some of Us solicits users emails and names for petitions, but only if you read the site privacy policy will you learn that signing the petition adds you to the email list for future emails from Some of Us about other causes. The site privacy policy also explains the use of email web bugs that enable Some of Us to personally track when and if the recipients of emails open and read the emails.

I am used to reading stories in the media blasting behavioral ads on the home pages of newspapers embedded with dozens of web trackers. Reporters don’t run the web sites of newspapers, and although they might want to consider whether the ad tracking they consider odious is funding their salaries, they can credibly argue that the business side of media and reporting are separate worlds. But how can an advocacy group blast behavioral ads while targeting behavioral ads to users who come to sign a petition against behavioral ads?!!!

I signed the petition and was immediately taken to a page where Some of Us encouraged me to share the news with my friends on Facebook.

-Jules Polonetsky, Executive DirectorThis post originally appeared on LinkedIn

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