Facebook’s Location-Specific Ads Still Work Despite Disabled Location Options

Even if you explicitly tell Facebook to not track your location, it says it will still use your IP address to do just that.

A new report from Gizmodo explains that even when users take all available steps to limit location tracking — for example, by turning off location history and not checking in to current locations — Facebook still continues to keep tabs on their whereabouts using things like IP addresses and Wi-Fi data.

A Facebook spokesperson told Gizmodo that the company does not use WiFi data to track locations for ads if a user has “Location Services” turned off, though it does use IP information, and other information like check-ins and the current city on a user’s profile, regardless.

“There is no way for people to opt out of using location for ads entirely,” the Facebook spokesperson said.

Aleksandra Korolova, an assistant professor of Computer Science at the University of South California, described how she found Facebook showing advertisements targeted to her actual location even though she had the Location History function disabled on the Facebook app and Location Data Availability for Facebook turned off on iOS.

“Over the course of several months, I have had my privacy setting in Location Services for Facebook on iOS set to ‘Never’ and Location History cleared and turned off. Nevertheless, Facebook showed me ads targeted at ‘people who live near Santa Monica’ (which is where I live) or ‘people who live or were recently near Los Angeles’ (which is where I work). Moreover, I have noticed that whenever I travel for work or pleasure, Facebook continues to keep track of my location and use it for advertising: a trip to Glacier National Park resulted in an ad for activities in Whitefish, Montana, a trip to Cambridge, MA — in an ad for a business there, and a visit to Herzeliya, Israel — in an ad for a business there.”

Facebook details this further to advertisers where they say that they rely on other features like your IP address, WiFi, and Bluetooth data. In response to Korolova’s article and paper, Facebook released a statement which more or less confirms it, going as far as claiming that there is no way for users to completely opt out of using location for ads entirely.

“Facebook does not use WiFi data to determine your location for ads if you have Location Services turned off,” said a Facebook spokesperson. “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.”

“When it comes to one of the most privacy-sensitive types of data, location, Facebook does not provide meaningful controls and is misleading in its statements to users and advertisers,” Korolova says.

Just a few months ago, Google faced heat over a similar controversy after an AP investigation found location tracking for some of its products, like Maps or its Android phones, couldn’t be fully turned off in many cases.

It may not be long before Facebook earns another invitation to testify about its data practices on Capitol Hill.