Facebook Uses IP Address and Other Info to Deliver Location-Based Ads Even When Location Options are Disabled

If you've noticed Facebook continuing to deliver location-based ads even with all location services disabled, you're not alone, and that's because Facebook continues to use data like your IP address to determine your location for ad delivery purposes.

Facebook's lack of an option to disable location tracking for ad targeting was highlighted in a Medium post shared today by Aleksandra Korolova, assistant professor of Computer Science at USC.


Korolova noticed that Facebook was continuing to provide location-based ads even after she disabled Location History, turned off the location services option for Facebook on her iOS devices, and removed her city from her profile. She didn't upload photos, tag herself at certain locations, or check in, nor does she allow WhatsApp, Instagram, and Facebook Messenger to access her location.

Nevertheless, Facebook showed me ads targeted at "people who live near Santa Monica" (which is where I live) or "people who live or were recently near Los Angeles" (which is where I work). Moreover, I have noticed that whenever I travel for work or pleasure, Facebook continues to keep track of my location and use it for advertising: a trip to Glacier National Park resulted in an ad for activities in Whitefish, Montana, a trip to Cambridge, MA -- in an ad for a business there, and a visit to Herzeliya, Israel -- in an ad for a business there.

As it turns out, and as Facebook explains on its ads page, it is collecting location data based on "where you connect to the Internet" and "where you use your phone," aka your IP address, Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth data. As Korolova points out, Facebook does not explain that turning off all location services will not stop Facebook from "going to great lengths to obtain and use location data for advertising."

Facebook does not make it a secret that it is using IP addresses and other information for ad targeting, but most people are likely not aware that their locations are still being tracked in this way even after disabling location tracking settings.

Facebook, Korolova argues, should do better, because the locations that a person visits and lives in can reveal a lot about them, and that's info that any Facebook advertiser can take advantage of through ads. Facebook should be providing "meaningful" tools over the location information that it's collecting, rather than options to disable location services that don't actually mean anything because location data is still being collected over IP address.

In statements provided to Gizmodo, Facebook confirmed that it's using IP information for location tracking purposes and that there's no way for users to turn off location tracking entirely.

"There is no way for people to opt out of using location for ads entirely," a Facebook spokesperson told Gizmodo. "We use city and zip level location which we collect from IP addresses and other information such as check-ins and current city from your profile to ensure we are providing people with a good service--from ensuring that they see Facebook in the right language to making sure that they are shown nearby events and ads for businesses that are local to them."

If you use Facebook, there is no way to prevent Facebook from tracking location, except perhaps by enabling a VPN at all times. Quitting Facebook and deleting the app entirely is the only way to make sure the site isn't tracking you, and even then, Facebook has "shadow profiles" with data on people who don't even use the social network.

Top Rated Comments

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23 months ago
Nobody should be surprised by this. FaceBook is a vile corporation. I am ashamed that someone from my generation made such a huge, terrible company. Either you stop using it forever like I did in 2010 or you keep using it and stop complaining.
Score: 36 Votes (Like | Disagree)
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23 months ago

I feel like most companies would use IP addresses for location data for something like this... Google does it by default if you search for something like a store nearby too. IP addresses are easy to get if you're a web developer.

Not sure why this is just being discovered. :p

I think what's more concerning here is that Facebook offers options to turn location services off and then continues to track you by other means for ad targeting purposes regardless of the settings you've picked.
Score: 35 Votes (Like | Disagree)
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23 months ago
Once again, users are products. Either uninstall the app or live with the violation of privacy.
Score: 34 Votes (Like | Disagree)
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23 months ago
Is there anything Facebook doesn't spy on? Or leak data to? If you submit any data to Facebook, expect them to abuse that data.
Score: 16 Votes (Like | Disagree)
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23 months ago
So I'm not sure why there is internet outrage about this "new information", because this is how every internet ad works. Even if you're fully logged out, this is an example of the information that your browser provides to inform which ads appear on the web pages you visit: http://webkay.robinlinus.com/

This includes ads served by MacRumors.

Part of what the ad industry has not done a good job educating the public on is that these ads are what fund the internet as we know it, and pay the bills for the content that we are consuming for free. Even sites like MR don't create this content out of the goodness of their heart, they do it to make money and it costs money for them to produce the quality content. Without being able to target ads at a relevant audience, not only would you see a random ad from any advertiser (i.e. a 50 year old male may see a banner ad for a Justin Bieber concert, which is not relevant to him), but advertisers would no longer receive value against their ad spend and would devalue the price that they are willing to pay to the websites that they are supporting (i.e. sites like MacRumors may no longer be able to pay the bills, and shut down, or reduce the quality of the content they produce and give to you for free).

I agree that some advertising platforms allow too much to advertisers (i.e. popups, ads that take up a high CPU amount, auto-play video), but for the most part, these are irreputable ad networks, and is partially the website's fault for allowing these networks to be allowed on their sites.

TL;DR - Internet advertising enables a free internet, and if advertisers no longer get value from their ad buys, sites like MacRumors will either be forced to put up a paywall, or stop delivering the ad-supported services that they do.

Full disclosure: I work in internet marketing and actively purchase paid media advertising both online and offline.
Score: 16 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Avatar
23 months ago
I deleted my Facebook account last year and I'm so much happier now!!!!
Score: 11 Votes (Like | Disagree)

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