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Every Facebook user is monitored by thousands of brands for targeted ads

Facebook’s extensive monitoring of its users’ online activities has been exposed in a new study.

The research conducted by Consumer Reports indicates that, on average, an astonishing 2,230 companies actively share data about each user with the social networking app.

In some instance, users had their data shared with Facebook by as many as 7,000 companies.

Why we care. As concerns over data privacy continue to grow, these statistics have the potential to create trust issues that could significantly impact your brand’s reputation. Moreover, in markets like the European Union, where data privacy regulations are becoming more stringent, these numbers may also give rise to legal and ethical concerns.

Issues. Although Meta offers transparency tools, Consumer Reports identified issues with them. The study highlighted problems, including the unclear identity of many data providers based on the names disclosed to users. Additionally, the report noted that companies providing services to advertisers are often able to disregard user opt-out requests.

How the study worked. Consumer Reports joined forces with The Markup to recruit 709 volunteers willing to share their Facebook data archives. Participants downloaded a three-year data archive from their Facebook settings and submitted it. This allowed the organizations to analyze “server-to-server” tracking, uncovering how many companies were sharing user data with Facebook by transferring personal data from their servers to Meta’s servers.

US statistics. The study acknowledges that its findings may not be representative of the U.S. population as a whole because the data comes from a self-selected group of users. Additionally, the results were not demographically adjusted. Consumer Reports also pointed out that participants were probably more privacy-conscious, technically inclined, and likely members of Consumer Reports, indicating a potential bias in the sample.

What Facebook is saying. Meta spokesperson Emil Vazquez told The Markup:

  • “We offer a number of transparency tools to help people understand the information that businesses choose to share with us, and manage how it’s used.”

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What is Consumer Reports? Consumer Reports is an independent, nonprofit organization that works with consumers to uncover truth, transparency, and fairness in the marketplace.

What is The Markup? The Markup is a non-profit newsroom that investigates and challenges technology to benefit the public.

Deep dive. Read the Consumer Reports study in full for more information.

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