News & Analysis

Following our investigation into advertisers on Facebook and the exposure of the platform shortcomings, Facebook's response is a failure to acknowledge its responsibility in ensuring transparency and enabling people to exercise their rights. Here is our point by point analysis of their answer

Key Resources

This guide is for anyone concerned about their social media accounts being monitored by public authorities, but it’s especially targeted at people from minority and migrant communities who may be disproportionately affected by various forms of surveillance.


There is increasing awareness about micro-targeting in digital campaigning. PI spoke to Dr Kate Dommett about this growing phenomenon, and the types of data used when targeting users with political ads.

News & Analysis

Facebook's announcement that users will be able to opt-out from seeing political and issue-based ads leaves many important questions unanswered.

Call to Action

Ask advertisers why they have your data!

Some advertisers upload our personal data to target us on Facebook. Find the ones doing this for you and hold them into account!


Here are a few suggested tips, based on our own experience with Data Subject Access Requests (DSARs). This is based on DSARs under the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), but we hope our tips may be useful in other jurisdictions too.

Long Read

Join us on a journey to try to solve the mystery behind the advertisers who have uploaded our personal data to Facebook but with whom we've never interacted with before.


A PI investigation into advertisers we had never heard of who upload our personal data on Facebook to target us.

Long Read

Throughout these updates, we will do our best to avoid technical terms, obscure references or abstract discussions. We want you to be aware of how data power has grown and why we need to act. This post focuses on data and competition law developments in the UK.


In February 2020, PI submitted comments on the UK Competition and Markets Authority's (CMA) interim report into online platforms and digital advertising.

Case Study

Everyone has the right to freely manifest their religion, to change it and to practice it alone or with others.

19 Mar 2020
Facebook's scientists are analysing location data about compliance with social distancing recommendations in various countries using information from a private vault of location information its apps have collected. The analysis shows that only "very modest" changes in habits in the US, France, and
05 Mar 2020
WhatsApp is being flooded with fake cures, false information about how the illness is transmitted, and coronavirus conspiracy theories, and has become a vector for spreading panic and misinformation around the world, particularly in countries such as Nigeria, Singapore, Brazil, Pakistan, and Ireland
17 Mar 2020
A task force at the Italian Ministry of Innovation, in collaboration with the University of Pavia to leverage big data technologies to deal with COVID-19, after the WHO advised governments that lockdowns alone are not enough, and that testing, isolation, and contact tracing are crucial. The effort
17 Mar 2020
A task force at the Italian Ministry of Innovation, in collaboration with the University of Pavia to leverage big data technologies to deal with COVID-19, after the WHO advised governments that lockdowns alone are not enough, and that testing, isolation, and contact tracing are crucial. The effort
05 Mar 2020
In a rare departure from personalisation, Facebook announced that it had begun inserting a box into its news feed directing users to the Centers for Disease Control’s page about COVID-19, potentially driving many millions of users to reliable information from an authoritative source. Facebook also
26 Feb 2020
Facebook announced on its blog that it was providing researchers at Harvard University’s School of Public Health and National Tsing Hua University in Taiwan with aggregated and anonymised mobility data and high resolution population density maps to help inform their forecasting models for the spread
26 Feb 2020
Facebook is providing researchers at Harvard University’s School of Public Health and National Tsing Hua University in Taiwan "aggregated and anonymized" mobility data and high resolution population density maps to help inform their forecasting models for the spread of the virus as part of our
Long Read

Facebook "Download Your Information" feature only gives you part of the picture. Information about advertisers uploading lists with your personal information is limited in time and prevents users from exercising their rights

News & Analysis

Most users around the world still don't have meaningful insight into how ads are being targeted at them on Twitter, Facebook, and Google.

News & Analysis
The latest news of Twitter “inadvertently” sharing email addresses or phone numbers provided for safety or security purposes (for example, two-factor authentication) for advertising purposes is extremely concerning for several reasons. First of all, it is not the first time for Twitter's used people
News & Analysis
Photo by Daniel Jensen on Unsplash Everyone is talking about Facebook's end-to-end encryption plans and the US, UK and Australian government's response. Feeling lost? Here is what you need to know. What's Facebook trying to do? First let's be clear: Facebook has many faults when it comes to privacy
Long Read
An analysis of what Facebook, Google, and Twitter have done to provide users with political ad transparency as of September 2019. Our full analysis is linked below. Recently the role of social media and search platforms in political campaigning and elections has come under scrutiny. Concerns range
News & Analysis
Photo by Jake Hills on Unsplash Our research has shown how some apps like Maya by Plackal Tech and MIA by Mobbap Development Limited were – at the time of the research – sharing your most intimate data about your sexual life and medical history with Facebook. Other apps like Mi Calendario, Ovulation
Long Read

PI undertook dynamic analysis of various menstrution apps using its own data interception environment to look at the data they share with Facebook.

In 2018, to prove how easily soldiers' real-world actions can be manipulated via social media, researchers at NATO's Strategic Communications Center of Excellence (StratCom) conducted a red-team exercise in which they "catfished" members of the armed forces. Using information collected from Facebook
In December 2018, Facebook provided an update on the civil rights audit it asked civil rights leader Laura Murphy to undertake in May. Based on advice Murphy culled from 90 civil society organisations, Facebook said it had expanded its policy prohibiting voter suppression, updated its policy to ban

Companies like Facebook, Google, and Twitter are not doing enough to provide their users with ads transparency.

News & Analysis
Image: The Great Hack publicity still, courtesy of Netflix. This is a review of the documentary 'The Great Hack' originally published on IMDb. This documentary is a fascinating account of The Facebook/Cambridge Analytica data scandal. In early 2018, Cambridge Analytica became a household name. The
Le Monde exposed anti-IVG (anti-abortion) advertising on Facebook as part of a borader campaign led by anti-abortion website IVG.net. The advertisement relied on stock photos and fake testimonies posted in public Facebook groups and promoted to young women. Most of the posts attempt to promote the
Long Read
The white paper that outlines the rationale for the new currency makes a number of heady statements, some which anyone who cares about rights should commend -- and some which should be challenged.
Long Read
When you go abroad, you expect to show your passport right? But what if immigration authorities wanted access to your Facebook, Instagram and Twitter accounts before they let you enter a country? What if they wanted to vet you based on your updates, photos, likes, retweets and even your DMs? We
News & Analysis
Privacy International has joined a global coalition of privacy campaigners, tech companies, and technology experts to respond to proposals by British intelligence chiefs aimed at allowing them access to encrypted messaging apps such as WhatsApp or Signal. If implemented, the proposals would allow
18 May 2019
As a part of Facebook’s efforts to curb disinformation and misinformation on its platform, the company introduced new rules over how political content is marked. This has resulted in content that is educational, news articles, and otherwise seemingly non-political being marked incorrectly and taken
17 May 2019
Political ads on Facebook are meant to be marked with a disclaimer that says who paid for the ad, as well as be archived into the platform’s ad library, where users are able to see more information about how an ad was targeted. It’s important to note that the ‘who paid for the ad’ requirement is
15 May 2019
Facebook's efforts to remove disinformation in the wake of the 2019 Ukrainian Presidential election have so far failed. Politico reports that "Among the Facebook pages that spread spurious claims during the election was one with more than 100,000 followers that ran a video claiming (the Presidential
18 Mar 2019
Volunteers for Presidential candidate Volodymyr Zelenskiy were tasked with pouring over social media sites to search for disinformation and combat bot armies that spread negative comments about the candidate. Facebook has been slow to take down 'fake news' and so the volunteers search social media
21 Feb 2019
In August 2018, Apple forced Facebook to remove its Onava VPN from the App Store because the Facebook had been using it to harvest data across multiple apps and track user activity. In January 2019, a TechCrunch investigation revealed that in a separate part of the same programme Facebook had been
In a December 2018 update, Facebook so effectively disguised sponsored posts that it took AdBlocker Plus a month, instead of the more usual few days, to find a way to counter it. Facebook has responded to the threat posed to its business model by adblockers by both providing users with advertising
21 Nov 2018
In November 2018 the campaign group Freedom from Facebook used the social network's own advertising tools to promote a "safe space" website where they can submit whistleblower tips anonymously. Facebook declined to comment but did not appear to be blocking the ads nor keeping a log of who viewed
02 Dec 2018
Days after the 2018 shooting that killed 11 Jewish congregants in a Pittsburgh synagogue, The Intercept found that Facebook still allowed advertisers to choose "white genocide conspiracy theory" as a targeting criterion, capturing 168,000 members of the social network. The technique used was the
Long Read
CEOs of the big tech companies have all recently discovered the value of privacy. On Tuesday, 30 April 2019, Mark Zuckerberg, announced his future plans to make Facebook a "privacy-focused social platform". This was followed by Google's Sundar Pichai demand that “privacy must be equally available to
14 Dec 2018
In December 2018 Facebook revealed that over a 12-day period in September a software bug may have wrongly allowed about 1,500 third-party apps to access 6.8 million users' photos, including some that people began uploading to the social network but didn't go on to finish posting. EPIC executive
16 May 2019
Facebook has taken down 65 accounts, 161 pages, dozens of groups and four Instagram accounts, which were ran by Archimedes Group, an Israeli political consulting and lobbying firm that aimed at disrupting elections in various countries. Archimedes was mostly active in Sub-Saharan Africa but also
It’s tough to minimise targeted ads on phones because ads can be delivered based on data from the device level (such as what operating system your phone is using or based on unique numbers that identify your phone), browser level (what you search for within a browser), and within the apps you use
23 Nov 2009
The rise of social media has also been a game changer in the tracking of benefits claimants. Back in 2009, the case of Nathalie Blanchard a woman in Quebec who had lost her disability insurance benefits for depression because she looked “too happy” on her Facebook pictures had made the news. https:/
21 Nov 2017
Before and after the Italian election on 4 March 2018, concerns were raised about the spread of misinformation, disinformation and inflammatory content through a network of news sites and Facebook pages. In November 2017, in the run up to the election, Buzzfeed reported on links between a large
19 Jun 2018
In an experiment conducted by Fabio Chiusi and Claudio Agosti during the 2018 election season and set out in detail in their report for Tactical Tech, the duo sought to investigate the Facebook algorithm that powers users’ news feed and the algorithm’s treatment of political content. One of the
It’s tough to minimise targeted ads on phones because ads can be delivered based on data from the device level (such as what operating system your phone is using or based on unique numbers that identify your phone), browser level (what you search for within a browser), and within the apps you use
Long Read
“Truth exists, but you have to find it”, Oleksandra Matviychuk of Ukraine’s Center for Civil Liberties told me as I interviewed her in central Kyiv one week before the 2019 Ukrainian run-off election, “and in order to do so you have to make some effort”. We’re talking about her experience working on
News & Analysis
Mr. Zuckerberg has discovered the usefulness of regulation to protect our personal data. After years of lobbying against the adoption of the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and of lamenting the ills of its implementation, Facebook seems ready to embrace European data protection law and
22 Feb 2019
In February 2019, an examination of Facebook's searchable database of Indian political ads showed that in India political ads on Facebook were viewed nine times more often by men than by women. Facebook's Indian user base was reported as 24% female in 2016. The reason for the disparity in ad viewing
06 Feb 2019
In January 2019, Facebook announced that as of February 28 the site would add more information to that displayed when users click on the "Why am I seeing this?" button that appears next to ads on the service. Along with the brand that paid for the ad, some of the biographical details they'd targeted
27 Jan 2019
In January 2019, the British transparency NGO WhoTargetsMe, Mozilla, and the US investigative journalism site Pro Publica reported that recent changes in the social network's code were restricting their ability to monitor political ads on Facebook. The company said the changes were part of a
16 Jan 2019
In January 2019, Facebook announced it would extend some of the rules and transparency tools it developed for political advertising for upcoming spring elections in Nigeria, Ukraine, India, and the EU. In Nigeria, the site will bar electoral ads from advertisers outside the country where the
17 Jan 2019
In January 2019, Facebook' announced it had removed multiple pages, groups, and accounts coordinating inauthentic behaviour on Facebook and Instagram that were set up by two unrelated operations originating in Russia. One of these operated 364 pages and accounts was active in the Baltics, Central
27 Apr 2017
In a November 2017 report, Facebook's security group outlined the steps it would take to combat new forms of misuse of the platform, including attempts to deceive people and manipulate civic discourse at low cost or risk to the organisers. Among the drivers, the group cited the global reach Facebook
10 Oct 2015
In 2019, a prominent page on the Facebook Business site cited the British Conservative Party as a "success story" at the 2015 general election, which put the party into power with a narrow majority. The site boasted that via Facebook the Conservatives had an 80.6% reach in key constituencies, 3.5
09 Dec 2018
A December 2018 analysis found that Facebook's measures for improving election security and discouraging anonymous political messages were poorly executed and inconsistently applied, and placed an unfair burden on charitable organisations and small businesses while simultaneously being easy for
02 Nov 2018
Facebook's latest tool for inspecting political ads showed that in the run-up to the US mid-term elections in November 2018, many of the same politicians who had been questioning Facebook about privacy and leaked user data were spending campaign funds on advertisements on the service. Between 2014
Cases of female and gender diverse public figures being targeted with online harassment have become sadly common in the news. Female politicians are particularly affected – although journalists and in particular sports commentators are also frequently targeted as well. In some cases, the harassment
News & Analysis
PI has today written to Google, Instagram, Snapchat, TicTok, Twitter, YouTube, and WhatsApp to ask for more information about their steps to tell people why they are seeing ads. Facebook recently announced expanding the company's ad transparency measures to include more information about why an ad
News & Analysis
This past weekend, in an Op-Ed in the Washington Post, Mark Zuckerberg called for new regulations to address harmful content, electoral integrity, privacy and data portability. Nine years since he proclaimed that privacy is no longer a social norm, four years since Facebook noticed broadscale
News & Analysis

Planning and participating in peaceful protests against governments or non-state actors’ policies and practices requires the capacity of individuals to communicate confidentially without unlawful interference. Surveillance technologies are affecting the right to peaceful assembly in new and often unregulated ways: in this article we focus on three technologies and practices deployed by public authorities in monitoring assemblies that raise particular concerns: IMSI catchers, facial recognition, and Social Media Intelligence (SOCMINT).

News & Analysis

A panel of competition experts has confirmed that tech giants, like Facebook, Amazon, Google, Apple and Microsoft, do not face enough competition. We welcome the recommendations contained in the report, and we urge significant caution when it comes to solutions that will provide other companies with access to customers' data troves.

Long Read
(In order to click the hyperlinks in the explainer below, please download the pdf version at the bottom of the page).
News & Analysis

We retested all the apps from our December 2019 report that showed leakages to Facebook.

23 Aug 2018
In 2018, changes to Apple's rules for data collection led Facebook to withdraw its Onavo Protect VPN app from the app store. The app's function was to warn users when they were visiting potentially harmful websites and protected their data when using public wifi. However, the app also collected data
UPDATE 13 February: Facebook announced that it would open up its Ad Archive API next month. Read Mozilla's statement about the response here. On 11 February 2019, Privacy International joined Mozilla and 36 organisations in an open letter to Facebook call on Facebook to make good on its commitments
27 Mar 2018
Affiliate marketers, who buy ad space in bulk, run campaigns, and earn commissions on the sales they generate, are behind some of the shady and misleading ads that pollute social media and the wider internet, despite also promoting some legitimate businesses such as Amazon and eBay. At one of
26 Sep 2018
In 2018, WhatsApp founder Brian Acton responded to the Cambridge Analytica scandal by tweeting "It is time. #deletefacebook." He also left the company, walking away from $850 million in unvested stock rather than accede to Facebook's plans to add advertising and commercial messaging, a purpose at
16 Oct 2018
In October 2018, researcher Johannes Eichstaedt led a project to study how the words people use on social media reflect their underlying psychological state. Working with 1,200 patients at a Philadelphia emergency department, 114 of whom had a depression diagnosis, Eichstaedt's group studied their
05 Sep 2018
After a series of scandals, in the year up to September 2018 54% of American Facebook users had changed their privacy settings and 42% had skipped visiting the platform for several weeks or more. About 26% said they had deleted the Facebook app from their smartphone. Some 74% of Facebook users had
08 Jun 2018
Even after 2015, when Facebook said it had walled off user records from third parties, inside sources and court documents showed that the company went on maintaining a whitelist of companies that were allowed customised access to information about users' Friends, phone numbers, and a "friend link"
21 Jul 2018
In July 2018, Facebook announced it was investigating whether the Boston-based company Crimson Hexagon had violated the company's policies on surveillance. Crimson Hexagon markets itself as offering "consumer insights". Its customers include a Russian non-profit with ties to the Kremlin, and
09 May 2018
In May 2018 Facebook announced it would partner with organisations in places such as Myanmar and South Sudan in order to develop more "context-specific" knowledge about how its platform is being abused to create real risks of harm and violence. In Myanmar, where telephone companies allowed Facebook
13 Jun 2018
In June 2018 Facebook announced it would install new controls to improve members' understanding of how companies targeted them with advertising, including letting them know if a data broker supplied the information. This was the second update to the company's policies in 2018; in March it attempted
27 Sep 2018
In 2018, experiments showed that despite the company's denials, ads could be targeted at specific Facebook users via information that the users had never given Facebook, such as phone numbers. The reason: Facebook allows advertisers to upload their own lists of phone numbers of email addresses, and
12 May 2018
Facebook ads purchased in May 2016 by the Internet Research Agency, a notorious Russian troll farm, urged users to install the FaceMusic app. When installed, this Chrome extension gained wide access to the users' Facebook accounts and web browsing behaviour; in some cases it messaged all the user's
05 Aug 2018
Under a clause in the country's computer crime act that criminalises uploading content that is false or causes "panic", in 2018, Thailand's ruling military junta pursued a criminal investigation into a live feed on the Facebook page belonging to the rising Future Forward Party. The postings claimed
25 Oct 2018
In the run-up to the November 2018 US midterm elections, Vice tested Facebook's new system of mandatory "Paid for" disclosure intended to bring greater transparency to the sources of ads relating to "issues of national importance". Placing political ads requires a valid ID and proof of residence
11 Oct 2018
In the run-up to the 2018 US mid-term elections, researchers found that the dissemination of fake news on Facebook was increasingly a domestic American phenomenon rather than, as in the 2016 presidential election, an effort driven by state-backed Russian operatives. Removing such accounts (Twitter)
12 Jul 2018
In July 2018, the leader of a private Facebook group for women with the BRCA gene, which is associated with high breast cancer risk, discovered that a Chrome plug-in was allowing marketers to harvest group members' names and other information. The group was concerned that exposure might lead to
06 Jul 2018
Between May 18 and May 22, a bug in Facebook's system changed the settings on 14 million users' accounts so that newly posted updates they thought were private might have been made public instead. The company attributed the error to a mistake made in redesigning how the public parts of user profiles
03 Jun 2018
In 2014, a team of four Swedish and Polish researchers began scraping every comment and interaction from 160 public Facebook pages. By two years later, they had collected one of the largest sets of user data ever assembled from the social network; it enabled them to track the behaviour of 368
12 Oct 2018
In announcing a data breach in 2018, at first Facebook said 50 million people's data had been accessed, then 30 million - but the data accessed was more sensitive than they thought at first. After investigation, the company explained that it had identified four stages of attack with a different
21 Aug 2018
In August 2018, Facebook announced it would remove more than 5,000 ad targeting options in order to prevent discrimination. Options specifying the exclusion of people interested in "Passover", "Native American culture", or "Islam" could be used as proxies to allow advertisers to exclude ethnic and
01 Nov 2018
Days before the US November 2018 midterm elections, ProPublica discovered that an organisation called Energy4US spent $20,000 to run ads on Facebook pushing conservatives to support the Trump administration's reversal of fuel emission standards. On closer scrutiny, Energy4US appeared to be a front
15 Oct 2018
In October 2018, in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal and questions over Facebook's influence on the UK's EU referendum, Facebook announced it would add Britain to the US and Brazil on the list of countries where the company will no longer allow political groups to publish "dark" ads on
15 Oct 2018
In the run-up to the US 2018 mid-term elections, Facebook announced it would broaden the company's policies against voter suppression by banning misrepresentations about how to vote and whether a vote will be counted. The company also introduced a reporting option to allow users to report incorrect
04 Sep 2018
For many Filipinos, Facebook is their only way online because subsidies have kept it free to use on mobile phones since its launch in the country in 2013, while the open web is expensive to access. The social media network is believed to have been an important engine behind the ascent to the
14 Jun 2018
In a systematic campaign over more than five years, Myanmar military used Facebook to covertly spread propaganda, mostly against the Rohynga, via accounts that appeared to be dedicated to pop stars and entertainment, turning the social media site into a tool for ethnic cleansing. Having garnered a
14 Jun 2018
In June 2018, human rights and digital rights activists in Myanmar called on Facebook to raise its level of moderation of Burmese-language content in order to reduce hate speech, which they said was at high risk of sparking open violence. In Myanmar, decades of civil war and the end of military rule
12 Apr 2018
In April 2018, Facebook announced that in six months it would end a programme it called "Partner Categories", in which the social network acted as a bridge between data brokers like Acxiom, Epsilon, and TransUnion and the consumers their customers want to reach. In this deal, Facebook did not
Long Read
Photo Credit: Max Pixel The fintech sector, with its data-intensive approach to financial services, faces a looming problem. Scandals such as Cambridge Analytica have brought public awareness about abuses involving the use of personal data from Facebook and other sources. Many of these are the same
23 Aug 2018
Facebook-owned Onavo VPN (adertised as a way to block harmful websites, and keep a user's data safe) is pulled from the Apple App Store due to tracking, collecting, and analysing customers' usage data, including from other unrelated apps. https://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2018/08/facebook-violates
28 Sep 2018
30 million users had their accounts breached, with a total of 90 million accounts reset after Facebook's "view as" feature leaked unique user account access tokens, allowing attackers to not only trivially impersonate any other user on the platform, but also to potentially automate the attack on a
Long Read
The UK's Information Commissioner's Office announces it intends to fine Facebook the maximum amount possible for its role in the Cambridge Analytica scandal.
19 Dec 2017
In December 2017, the German cartel office presented preliminary findings in an investigation of Facebook, ruling that the company had abused its dominant position by requiring access to third-party data (including data from subsidiaries WhatsApp and Instagram) when an account is opened and tracking
11 Sep 2017
In September 2017, the Spanish national data protection regulator fined Facebook €1.2 million, alleging that the company collected personal information from Spanish users that could then be used for advertising. The investigation, which took place alongside others in Belgium, France, Germany, and
18 May 2017
In May 2017, the European Commission fined Facebook $122 million for providing incorrect or misleading information during its 2014 acquisition of WhatsApp. At the time of the acquisition, Facebook assured the EC that it would not be able to link its accounts database to that of WhatsApp. After the
30 May 2017
In May 2017, the French data protection regular, CNIL, fined Facebook €150,000 saying the company had failed to inform users properly about how their personal data is tracked and shared with advertisers. The regulator did not, however, order the company to change its practices. The decision was one
30 Jun 2015
In June 2015, the Belgian data protection regulator, Commission for the Protection of Privacy, launched a complaint that Facebook indiscriminately tracked internet users when they visited Facebook pages or clicked Like or Share, even when they are not Facebook members. In November 2015, the Court of
31 Jan 2013
In January 2013, Facebook upgraded its search tool to enable the site to answer more complex questions. Called Graph Search, the new tool aimed to make it possible for users to find businesses and each other based on location, personal history, personal interests, and mutual friends. The site
30 Nov 2015
In 2015, Facebook created the "Free Basics" programme, in which the company partnered with telephone carriers in various countries to offer free access to Facebook - that is, using Facebook would not count against their data plan. While critics argued the plan is anti-competitive, violates the
25 Jul 2014
Nearly 700,000 Facebook users were subjects of a research study where researchers changed randomly selected users' newsfeeds to be more positive or negative to study whether those users then displayed a more positive or negative affect in response. The experiment showed the power of Facebook's control over the News Feed and the algorithms that determine which of the possible pieces of content shows up at the top at any given moment.
01 Jan 2012
In 2012, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg's sister, Randi, tweeted to fellow Twitter user Callie Schweitzer that Schweitzer had violated her privacy by posting a picture taken in her kitchen. Randi Zuckerberg, the former head of Facebook's marketing department, had posted the picture, which was taken in
11 Nov 2011
In November 2011, the US Federal Trade Commission charged Facebook with repeatedly breaking the privacy promises it made to users. Among the list of deceptive practices and incidents in the FTC's complaint were December 2009 changes Facebook made to its site that publicly exposed information users
01 Jul 2011
In June 2011, Facebook enabled an automatic facial recognition called "Tag Suggestions" based on its research project DeepFace, requiring users who objected to opt out. The feature scanned the faces in newly uploaded photographs and compared them to those in the billions of images already on the
26 Jan 2011
In early 2011, Facebook launched "Sponsored Stories", an advertising product that used content from members' posts inside ads displayed on the service. Drawing on Likes, check-ins, and comments, a Sponsored Story might use a member's photograph and their comments from a coffee shop to create an ad
10 Oct 2010
In October 2010, the Wall Street Journal discovered that apps on Facebook were sending identifying information such as the names of users and their Friends to myriad third-party app advertising and internet tracking companies. All of the ten most popular Facebook apps, including Zynga's FarmVille
29 Jun 2016
When journalist Alex Hern needed to set up a Facebook account in order to manage the Guardian's technology page and other work-related things, he locked down its privacy settings so that the account's profile would not appear in searches and only Friends of Friends could add him as a friend. In
28 Apr 2010
In April 2010, Facebook launched a set of tools to enable websites to add a social layer by adding a Facebook frame to their pages. The company's three launch partners, Microsoft's Docs.com, Yelp, and Pandora, had access to a more comprehensive tool, Instant Personalization, which allowed them to
31 Jul 2009
In July 2009 after an in-depth study of the site spurred by complaints from the Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic at the University of Ottawa, Canada's Privacy Commissioner issued a ruling that Facebook was in direct violation of the country's privacy laws. Among the regulator's
05 Sep 2007
In September 2007, Facebook, which from its 2004 founding had stressed the privacy of its user profiles and interactions, opened up its profiles to public search engines such as Google and Bing. Facebook's new "public listing search" allowed anyone to search for a particular person; such searches
28 Feb 2008
In February 2008, users discovered that deleting their account from Facebook does not entirely remove it. Instead, the company's servers retained copies of the information in those accounts indefinitely even after those users telephoned the company to request full removal. The company argued that
11 Nov 2007
In November 2007, Facebook launched Beacon, an advertising programme that allowed third-party sites to include a script that passed Facebook notifications about users' activities on their sites such as purchases, auction bids, reviews, and game-playing. The service as originally designed offered no
09 Sep 2006
In 2006, Facebook redesigned its system to add News Feed and Mini-Feed features, which the company said were intended to give users information about their social world. The News Feed was designed to provide a constantly updated stream of stories including updates from each user's Friends and
01 Jan 2011
Over the years from 2005, when Facebook was still known as "Thefacebook" and its membership was still limited to verifiable Harvard students, to 2010, Facebook changed its privacy policies many times. Over that time, the default circle of who could view users' data widened over time, first to
Long Read
Hasn't Facebook said it would give European data protection to all of their users? Yes, but only in very vague language. In an initial reaction to the Cambridge Analytica scandal, Mark Zuckerberg declared that Facebook would apply the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) “in spirit” to their
28 Mar 2018
In March 2018, Facebook announced it was scrapping plans to show off new home products at its developer conference in May, in part because revelations about the use of internal advertising tools by Cambridge Analytica have angered the public. The new products were expected to include connected
30 Mar 2018
Users downloading their Facebook histories have been startled to find that the company has been collecting call and SMS data. The company has responded by saying users are in control of what's uploaded to Facebook. However, the company also says it's a widely used practice when users first sign in
The accuracy of Facebook's ad targeting sometimes leads users to believe that Facebook is spying on them by tapping the microphones in their phones. Facebook has denied the practice - and is likely telling the truth because uploading and scanning the amount of audio data such a system would involve
In 2016, Facebook and its photo-sharing subsidiary Instagram rolled out a new reporting tool that lets users anonymously flag posts that suggest friends are threatening self-harm or suicide. The act of flagging the post triggers a message from Instagram to the user in question offering support
23 Feb 2018
A former Facebook insider explains to Wired Magazine why it's almost certain that the Trump campaign's skill using the site's internal advertising infrastructure was more important in the 2016 US presidential election than Russia's troll farm was. The first was the ads auction; the second a little
21 Feb 2018
In 2017, Facebook introduced two mechanisms intended to give users greater transparency about its data practices: the "why am I seeing this?" button users can click to get an explanation of why they're being shown a particular ad, and an Ad Preferences page that shows users a list of attributes the
11 Jan 2018
As of early 2018, Facebook's friends recommendations (People You May Know) are based on the address books users give them. However, Facebook has been filing patent applications for a new generation of technologies for collecting more information about its users and matching them more accurately. One
20 Dec 2017
Research from ProPublica in December 2017 found that dozens of companies, including Verizon, Amazon, and Target are using Facebook to target job ads to exclude older workers. Excluding older workers is illegal under US law, but Facebook's system allows advertisers to specify precisely who should see
28 Nov 2017
Facebook and Twitter have advised Damian Collins, the chair of the UK Parliament's digital, culture, media, and sport committee, that the companies will hand over some information relating to the rearch of Russia-backed posts during the EU referendum. Facebook has already given the US Senate similar
Among the friends Facebook recommended to Kashmir Hill as people she might know was Rebecca Porter, to the best of her knowledge a total stranger. Because Hill was studying how the "black box" of Facebook recommendations worked, she contacted Porter to ask what the connection might be. To her
17 Oct 2017
A mistake in Facebook's machine translation service led to the arrest and questioning of a Palestinian man by Israeli police. The man, a construction worker on the West Bank, posted a picture of himself leaning against a bulldozer like those that have been used in hit-and-run terrorist attacks, with
22 Jun 2015
In 2015, Facebook's AI lab announced that its researchers had devised an experimental algorithm that could recognise people in photographs even when their faces are hidden or turned away. The researchers trained a sophisticated neural network on a dataset of 40,000 photographs taken from Flickr
28 Jun 2016
In 2016, Facebook gave conflicting accounts of whether the service uses location data in order to recommend prospective Friends in its "People You May Know" feature. When the company first admitted - for publication - that location data was indeed one of the signals it used, many users felt this
In 2015, The Intercept obtained documents showing that the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minnesota used a fake Facebook account to friend and monitor local Black Lives Matter activists, and collect their personal information and photographs without their knowledge. The account was discovered in a
News & Analysis
Today, the Transatlantic Consumer Dialogue (TACD) sent a letter to the CEO of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg, urging Facebook to adopt the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) as a baseline standard, not just for EU consumers as it is required, but for all Facebook services. The letter comes ahead
01 May 2017
Facebook has come under fire after leaked documents revealed the social media site has been targeting potentially vulnerable children. The allegations suggest the company is gathering information on young people who “need a confidence boost” to facilitate predatory advertising practices
Press release
Key points Privacy International has obtained previously unseen government documents that reveal British spy agency GCHQ collects social media information on potentially millions of people. GCHQ collected and accesses this information by gaining access to private companies’ databases. Letters
News & Analysis
An investigation released by Privacy International this week reveals the Facebook shut-down Thailand experienced in May 2014, at the height of the military coup, may have had more to do with attempting to surveil online communications, rather than censoring Facebook users. This revelation indicates
Press release
Transparency reports have traditionally played a critical role in informing the public on the lawful access requests made by governments to companies like Facebook. These reports have provided a useful accountability mechanism for users to know what governments are asking for and how often
News & Analysis
Facebook's new "Download your Information" feature provides only a fraction of the personal information held by Facebook.
News & Analysis
On the 2nd of August 2011 the Hamburg Commissioner for Data Protection and Freedom of Information has called on Facebook to delete the feature on the social networking site that automatically recognizes facial features and "tags" users when others upload photos of them. According to the local German