“Facebook has stated three ways in which it tracks your location, only one of which needs location services”
Facebook and its ecosystem apps continue to track your location even after you explicitly switch off location services. The social media giant has confirmed the same via a letter filed in response to queries sent to it by US senators Christopher Coons and Josh Hawley, revealing that it uses a combination of three methods to track and determine your present location, only one of which is dependent on the explicit permission of accessing your device’s location services. As a result, even after a user switches off permits for location services for Facebook apps, the company’s platforms can use the other methods to continue determining where you are.
The first of these two ancillary location tracking methods use information shared by a user on his/her profile, or content on which they are tagged, to determine their location and serve appropriate ads.
Excerpt of the letter were read by The Hill and published online, and through it, in Facebook’s words, “Even if someone does not enable location services, Facebook may still understand information about the location based on information that they and others provide through their activities and connections on our services. For example, if someone responds to an event on Facebook for a local music festival, upload a location-tagged video, or gets tagged by a friend in a check-in at a restaurant, these actions have give us information about that person’s likely location. Similarly, a person might share where they live by setting a location in Marketplace or adding their address to their profile.“
The second method, which in Facebook’s own admission is not necessarily precise, uses a user’s IP address to gain a rough knowledge of where they are at. According to Facebook, “An IP address identifies its particular connection to the Internet and serves as a routing address for any data sent to and from the device. That address – like a return address on envelope – identifies where the device is on the Internet. The device necessarily transmit the address, and anyone the device communicates with receives it, wherever she stands or receive any message or information.“
This pretty much affirms that even after a user explicitly denies Facebook from accessing their location, its services continue to track it, marking a clear violation of consent when it comes to treating sensitive data belonging to users. Given this issue, it now remains to be seen what course of action is taken by regulatory bodies across the world. Facebook has been in near-constant scrutiny over its brutish practices with user data and blatant breaches of privacy, and is amidst a barrage of regulatory letters seeking information of the company’s murky workings with data, and the entire business that is based on it.
While Facebook argues that targeted advertisements are not in breach of law, and allows them to earn for services they provide to billions across the world, it remains to be seen what is made of its clear breaches of privacy, and whether regulatory actions are actually taken against it.