Facebook has admitted to US senators that it tracks the location of its users even when they have turned off the location settings.
In a letter addressed to Senators Christopher A Coons and Josh Hawley and now viral on Twitter, Facebook’s Deputy Chief Privacy Officer Rob Sherman detailed how the social networking giant tracks a user’s location even when the user has turned off the tracking services from their account.
“@Facebook admits it. Turn off ‘location services’ and they’ll STILL track your location to make money (by sending you ads). There is no opting out. No control over your personal information. That’s Big Tech. And that’s why Congress needs to take action,” tweeted Josh Hawley, US Senator from Missouri, on Tuesday.
The Senators asked Facebook last month to “respect” users’ decisions to keep their locations private.
In the letter, Facebook said: “Even if someone does not enable Location services, Facebook may still understand information about their location based on the information that they and others provide through their activities and connections on our services”.
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For example, if someone responds to an event on Facebook for a local music festival, uploads a location-tagged post, or gets tagged by a friend in a check-in at a restaurant, these actions would give Facebook information about that person’s likely location.
“Similarly, a person might share where they live by setting a location in marketplace or adding their address to their profile. An important function of these internal APIs is to process people’s location-related information at a level of granularity that is consistent with the choices they have made,’ said the social networking giant.
Facebook also acknowledged that it targets ads based on the limited location information it receives when users turn off or limit tracking.
In a statement, Coons said he appreciates Facebook’s attempts to inform users about their privacy choices.
“However, I am concerned that these efforts are insufficient and even misleading in light of how Facebook is actually treating user data,” he added.
Facebook in February this year added a new privacy control feature to its Android app that allows users to block the app from collecting and saving their background location information.
“We’re introducing a new background location control on Facebook for Android so people can choose if they want us to collect location information when they’re not using the app,” Paul McDonald, Engineering Director, Location Infrastructure, Facebook wrote in a blog post.
Until now, users using features location like “Nearby Friends” or “Check-in” on Facebook were asked to enable their “Location History” setting.
Enabling the “Location Sharing” feature shared the user location even when the app was not being used, allowing Facebook to store that history.