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Originally published October 8 2012

The future of Facebook: Tracking users' offline buying habits, total lack of privacy

by J. D. Heyes

(NaturalNews) Are you one of the tens of millions of Facebook users who don't think you can live without it? If you value your privacy in a high-tech society in which 24/7 surveillance is a virtual reality - especially online - you might want to reassess just how important the site really is to you.

According to a recent report by the Atlantic Wire, Facebook has inked a partnership with the firm Datalogix, in an attempt to give advertisers more information about the effectiveness and reach of their ads.

According to the company's website, Datalogix helps businesses market to consumers online, by direct mail and via mobile devices. Emily Steel and April Dembosky of the Financial Times write that Datalogix "can track whether people see ads on the social networking site end up buying those products in stores."

Advertisers are complaining that Facebook, which has lost nearly half its stock value since going public last summer - doesn't give them a way to see if their ads actually lead to sales, hence the new partnership with Datalogix.

But there's a privacy rub.

Remember DoubleClick? That firm wanted to try this once too

The partnership aims to link up information Datalogix has on some 70 million households with Facebook profiles "so they can see if the ads you see changes the stuff you buy and tell advertisers whether their ads are working," writes Atlantic Wire's Rebecca Greenfield, who notes that, up to know, Facebook has been "limited to only tracking your Internet life (on and off Facebook) with its ubiquitous 'like' buttons." Teaming with Datalogix, though, fulfills the social networks' promise to focus more on personal data, which will include tracking consumers' offline habits as well.

Where will all of this consumer information come from?

The data firm says it gets information from retailers like grocery stores and, more uncomfortably, drug stores who utilize loyalty discount programs as a way to amass a treasure trove of valuable - and incredibly personal records of what their customers tend to buy. While Datalogix doesn't list its partners on its website - another red flag - it looks like the company is working with drug-store chain CVS' ExtraCare program, according to a Google search.

According to the Financial Times, it works like this: After matching email addresses and other identifiers located in Datalogix databases with Facebook accounts, the social site will utilize Datalogix to create reports for advertisers about who, if anyone, bought more of their goods or services after they ran ads on the site.

"But by matching your Facebook profile with your CVS bill, this means that Facebook has the potential to know some of your most intimate details (my, that's a lot of bunion cream you're buying!), and the privacy concerns are enormous," writes Greenfield.

When online ad firm DoubleClick proposed a similar data-merging scheme in 2000, pressure from consumers and privacy advocates forced CEO Kevin O'Connor to abandon it.

You can 'opt-out' - If you can find the link

According to reports, Facebook is putting some privacy protections in place to mitigate similar consumer reaction. One such measure will be to anonymize each user profile and apply a hash to each Facebook account in lieu of an actual name. Also, the site will allow users to opt-out - to a point.

"There is nowhere on Facebook's website to opt-out," says Greenfield. To do that, users will have to go to Datalogix's website, which most users have probably never heard of before now, to opt-out of being tracked.

Facebook's legal "opt-out" is by claiming the partnership doesn't violate Federal Trade Commission regulations because there is a link to that option on its site in the help center - which, of course, requires a lot of digging.

Greenfield traced the clicking steps in her Atlantic Wire piece, which most Facebook users would likely never find. But she did find it, and here it is: If you want to remain on the social site and not be tracked, you can go to this page where, more than halfway down the page under the subheading "Choice" you can click on the "click here" link to finally opt out - and then just trust that you truly won't be tracked.


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