Facebook Watches Teens Online As They Prep for College: Facebook And WhatsApp Still Spy On User Behaviour

Illustration of a kid pointing at a giant sized book in from of them, and to the left and behind the book is the dark figure of some creepy ghoul with two dark eyes, and it's arm extending out to touch the book.

Here’s what the student doesn’t know: Although she surfed the internet in the privacy of her home, Facebook saw much of what she did.

Every single site she visited used the Meta Pixel, a tracking tool that silently collects and transmits information to Facebook as users browse the web, according to testing by The Markup. Millions of invisible pixels are embedded on websites across the internet, allowing businesses and organizations to target their customers on Facebook with ads.

The Markup has also found hospitals, telehealth companies, tax filing websites, and mental health crisis websites using the pixel, and transmitting sensitive information to social media companies.

And WhatsApp is no different. Do not be fooled about the end-to-end-encryption. As far as we know that actual message content is still private, but it is WhatsApp’s terms and conditions that still allow for the active passing of metadata from your usage of WhatsApp upstream to Facebook. That behaviour is not just when you open and close WhatsApp and who you talk to when, it also includes the location of your phone 24/7 and whatever else it can harvest.

Facebook’s real power comes with how much data it collects from so many varied sources, and how it can collate all that information. It knows who one’s friends are, and what each friend does, and how that all relates together.

It is really difficult to get away from all this, as I recently discovered on my WordPress blog. Although I removed all the Google tracking stuff, the plugins that I make use of, have their own embedded data gathering. For example, I see Privacy Badger is blocking ‘pixel.wp.com’ and ‘api.pinterest.com’. Some I can explain, like the Flickr widget that fetches my photos from Flickr that I highlight.

But yes, it seems we really do have to arm ourselves with ad and tracker blockers nowadays. Corporates are not really changing their behaviour willingly at all.

See https://themarkup.org/pixel-hunt/2023/11/22/facebook-watches-teens-online-as-they-prep-for-college