Facebook is going to ask all of its users whether they want to be tracked as they use it.
The site will ask all of its users to explicitly opt in to having themselves tracked so that they can keep using Facebook, and tell them to limit that collection using its settings if they don’t.
But the site has warned that it will never be possible to turn off all ad tracking, as it isn’t on many websites. People will always have the option to leave entirely, a senior member of staff said.
New privacy laws come into effect from the European Union this May, which apply to all companies who collect data on people within Europe. Many parts of those new regulations seem to pose challenges for Facebook’s business, including new rules about what information can be harvested about users.
The company said that it will now give people the chance to opt into targeted marketing, and having their data collected for ads. If they don’t want to do that, they will be able to turn some of the settings off, but the site has made very clear that will not apply to all of them.
The EU law known as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which takes effect next month, promises the biggest shakeup in online privacy since the birth of the internet. Companies face fines if they collect or use personal information without permission.
Facebook deputy chief privacy officer Rob Sherman said the social network would begin seeking Europeans’ permission this week for a variety of ways Facebook uses their data, but he said that opting out of targeted marketing altogether would not be possible.
“Facebook is an advertising-supported service,” Sherman said in a briefing with reporters at Facebook’s headquarters.
Facebook users will be able to limit the kinds of data that advertisers use to target their pitches, he added, but “all ads on Facebook are targeted to some extent, and that’s true for offline advertising, as well”.
Facebook, the world’s largest social media network, will use what are known as “permission screens” – pages filled with text that require pressing a button to advance – to notify and obtain approval.
The screens will show up on the Facebook website and smartphone app in Europe this week and globally in the coming months, Sherman said.
The screens will not give Facebook users the option to hit “decline.” Instead, they will guide users to either “accept and continue” or “manage data setting,” according to copies the company showed reporters on Tuesday.
“People can choose to not be on Facebook if they want,” Sherman said.
Regulators, investors and privacy advocates are closely watching how Facebook plans to comply with the EU law, not only because Facebook has been embroiled in a privacy scandal but also because other companies may follow its lead in trying to limit the impact of opt-outs.
Last month, Facebook disclosed that the personal information of millions of users, mostly in the United States, had wrongly ended up in the hands of political consultancy Cambridge Analytica, leading to US congressional hearings and worldwide scrutiny of Facebook’s commitment to privacy.
Facebook chief financial officer David Wehner warned in February the company could see a drop-off in usage due to the GDPR.
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