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Of course Facebook can see your location even when you tell it not to

Published Dec 18th, 2019 5:44PM EST
Facebook Location History
Image: Valentin Wolf/imageBROKER/Shutterstock

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Long-time smartphone users will not be surprised to hear that Facebook can and does track your location even when you tell it not to. That’s because Facebook has access to information that can help it pinpoint your exact location even when you explicitly deny Facebook apps from accessing your location data.

Facebook isn’t alone in this practice, of course. Any group of developers that can track internet users will be able to tell where people are accessing their site or their app from. That’s how the internet works. But Facebook may be able to tie all that information together and use it to send targeted ads your way.

Facebook explained to senators how it works this week, per The Hill, in a penned response to earlier questions about its location-tracking policies. The senators asked Facebook to disclose how it learns the location of users and whether it continues to track them when they opt out of location tracking.

Aside from using IP addresses to glean location data about someone, Facebook can also scoop up information from other actions, such as a user saying that they’ll be attending certain events in certain cities: “When location services is off, Facebook may still understand people’s locations using information people share through their activities on Facebook or through IP addresses and other network connections they use,” Facebook deputy chief privacy officer Rob Sherman wrote in the letter.

“[As] part of using Facebook, people may provide Facebook with specific information about their location … They may check-in at a restaurant or a store, or apply a location tag to a photo, or their friend might tag them in a check-in post,” he said. Yes, you’re telling Facebook where you are.

The exec also confirmed that Facebook serves ads based on location data, so that will continue to happen to you as long as Facebook can find out where you are.

“By necessity, virtually all ads on Facebook are targeted based on location, though most commonly ads are targeted to people within a particular city or some larger region,” he said.

Unsurprisingly, Facebook’s response wasn’t to the liking of the recipients. Senators Christopher Coons and Josh Hawley criticized the company for making money off of personal information it shouldn’t have access to.

“Facebook claims that users are in control of their own privacy, but in reality, users aren’t even given an option to stop Facebook from collecting and monetizing their location information,” Coons said. “The American people deserve to know how tech companies use their data, and I will continue working to find solutions to protect Americans’ sensitive information.”

“There is no opting out. No control over your personal information. That’s Big Tech. And that’s why Congress needs to take action,” Hawley said. So, in light of this, will Congress take any action against Facebook and anyone else who uses location information in spite of the user’s wishes?

Chris Smith Senior Writer

Chris Smith has been covering consumer electronics ever since the iPhone revolutionized the industry in 2008. When he’s not writing about the most recent tech news for BGR, he brings his entertainment expertise to Marvel’s Cinematic Universe and other blockbuster franchises.

Outside of work, you’ll catch him streaming almost every new movie and TV show release as soon as it's available.

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