They’ve been asking for your hometown on your profile page for several weeks now, but they’ve gotten more aggressive lately: they’re putting it at the top of people’s news feeds and saying that your profile isn’t complete without it.
Why is Facebook pestering you to know where you grew up? It’s personal information that fills in another piece of the puzzle that makes you you. Knowing your hometown makes it easier to target you, not someone with a similar name. Knowing where you grew up–and where you live now–gives Facebook and its advertisers are better sense of the stores you like, where your family and friends are located, where you’re most likely to travel, and more. Your real life and history translates to more advertising money to Facebook, a revenue source that made up 83% of Facebook’s income in 2012.
Facebook recently extended its advertiser tracking capabilities into the real world through partnerships with big data brokers like Acxiom and Datalogix. This data sharing will let advertisers know if people who see their ads online–on Facebook–go buy whatever was advertised in real life. They piece together your offline and online activities through your personal information. Let’s say you buy a shirt at the mall and give the person at checkout your email (they’re always asking for it). If that’s the same email you use on your Facebook account, advertisers can link the two. They also link your online and offline lives through your phone number or zip code.
Here are 5 things you can do to thwart Facebook’s ability to link your real-world shopping with your online activities:
1. Don’t give Facebook your real email address or phone number
Facebook’s data use policy lets them share your information with hundreds, maybe even thousands, of advertisers, affiliates, and partners, which is why it’s smart to use a unique email and phone number that you don’t use anywhere else. Your email and phone number are the 2 pieces of info that Facebook and its big data partners use to figure out whether the same person who saw a Facebook ad online later bought the same item in a store.
Use an email address that you create solely for Facebook, or use a Masked Email or phone number. And when possible, don’t give Facebook anything.
2. Be stingy with you zip code, email, and phone number in stores
It seems like you can’t buy anything these days without the cashier asking for your personal info. Whether it’s to email you your receipt, sign you up for a rewards card, or send you coupons, it’s all a pretext to get your information, share it, and sell it. And now Facebook is one of the biggest recipients of that data. Stick to your guns and just say no when retail clerks ask you for your info. It’s not necessary to buy something, and for fellow Massachusetts residents like us, it’s now illegal. Same with California.
3. Ignore Facebook’s attempts to collect more profile info (or give them fake info)
Facebook is always requiring more information to complete your profile, while at the same time eroding privacy controls and default settings to make more of your information public. Facebook can, and does, use your information for advertising. Here’s a good rule of thumb: if Facebook is asking for a piece of information that it doesn’t already have, don’t give it out. This applies to “security” measures too, like Facebook’s 2-step verification. Just because you give your mobile phone number for security purposes doesn’t mean Facebook won’t use it to track you.
We recommend using a fake name that looks realistic so it doesn’t look suspicious (technically, Facebook’s policies let it kick you off for not using your full, legal name). For example, use your first name and swap out your middle name for your last name. Or switch your birthday to the 1st of the real month and year in which you were born so you’ll be roughly the same age and you’ll remember it, but no one will get your real birthday if your account is ever compromised.
4. Use a privacy tool like DoNotTrackMe to block Facebook from snooping on your browsing
Those Facebook buttons you see everywhere online aren’t just for sharing: they’re trackers. They send your site activity back to Facebook even if you don’t click on them, and even if you’re not a member of Facebook. Our free browser add-on DoNotTrackMe (DNTMe) blocks these buttons from tracking you by default. Note that whatever you do on Facebook itself is still heavily tracked and not affected by DNTMe; it’s impossible to use Facebook without feeding its data collection.
5. Opt out of the 4 big data brokers that work with Facebook
Facebook recently partnered with 4 big data companies–Acxiom, Datalogix, Epsilon, and BlueKai–to get more information about your historical and offline activities. You can opt out of having these companies share your information for marketing, but (annoyingly) you have to do a separate process for each company. Just follow the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s easy-to-follow instructions and you’ll be all set.