Noel D'souza
Jan 16, 2024

Meta's 'Link History': Tailored ads triumph or privacy peril?

SOUNDING BOARD: Experts analyse Meta's tool tracking users' clicked links, exploring the intricate interplay between user experience and data protection

Meta's 'Link History': Tailored ads triumph or privacy peril?

Meta has rolled out the 'Link History' feature on Facebook and Instagram, a tool tracking users' clicked links, accessible to both users and potentially advertisers unless they actively deny permissions. 

 

Marketed as a user-friendly feature preventing the frustration of losing online discoveries, it allows users to revisit websites visited in the past 30 days. However, concerns arise as Meta collects this data for targeted advertising, extending the tracking beyond the initial webpage to include subsequent pages during Facebook browsing, raising privacy apprehensions.

 

Notably, 'Link History' lacks clarity on its impact across other Meta apps, maintaining the prevailing norm of extensive data harvesting on platforms like Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, and related products. 

 

In light of evolving privacy landscapes, this tool diverges from industry trends; while Apple's App Tracking Transparency and Google's departure from cookies signify a shift towards heightened user privacy, global lawmakers are imposing stringent measures, exemplified by fines to prevent Meta from coercing data consent in the EU. 

 

As Meta introduces this feature, it stands in contrast to the broader privacy-conscious trajectory observed in the tech industry. 

 

To explore the potential for achieving a harmonious balance between user experience and data protection within features like this, we asked experts:

 

What's your take on Meta's 'Link History' amidst the push for privacy with third-party cookies being eliminated? How can user experience and data protection find a balance with features like this?

 

Srinivas Seshadri, senior vice president, Sokrati

 

In the wake of the ongoing deprecation of third-party cookies, Meta’s Link History feature seems to be a way to track users beyond the pixel. 

 

A few early observations: If links are opened in-app (which is the default setting on Facebook), then user activity can be tracked on whatever website they visit using JavaScript keylogging, as discovered by privacy researcher Felix Krause. Secondly, it is worth noting that while there’s an option to opt out of Link History on the app, it doesn’t seem to exist for the web version of Facebook, which raises more questions than it answers. Third, there is no information on how this data will be used by other Meta apps such as Instagram and WhatsApp. The Facebook prompt simply says - “When you allow link history, we may use your information to improve your ads across Meta technologies”.

 

Another point is that this activity has always been tracked by Facebook/Meta; it seems like they are simply asking for users’ permission now. This could be a function of the significant headwinds they have been facing on the privacy regulation front, most notably from the EU.

 

As for the balancing act between user experience and data protection, different consumer-facing service providers have been attempting this for a few years now: Browsers like Brave have a great UI with solid privacy settings; Firefox has always been strongly pro-privacy despite being a ‘mainstream’ browser (10% of all browsers in the world); Apple launched it’s app tracking transparency feature in 2020 with a lot of success. I think that the key to doing this well is to offer something that users want (an ads-free experience, for example) while giving them true control of their data (as opposed to the illusion of privacy that some of these features seem to offer).

 

Suchi Jain, general manager, Madison Digital

 

Meta has been collecting data from the clicks users make within the Facebook ecosystem, and this is the first time users have had any visibility or control over this. The new 'Link History' feature will be rolled out to all iOS and Android users globally in a few months and is not available on desktops currently. This will now be turned on by default although the users can choose to opt out at any point and Facebook promises to delete the data in 90 days after opt-out.

 

As per the Meta policy communications team, this is a standard feature as it helps people to revisit links in the past which can help improve the quality of the ads. 

 

While some praise this as a step towards privacy the opposite of this also exists. Pro privacy is seen as a way in which insights can be accessed by users since all tracking takes place when the mobile app is used. Hence some see this as a positive move for “providing transparency and control” over how user data is being used by the tech company. Insights from Link History may also be used by advertisers for ad-targeting purposes which helps address the privacy-changing norms

 

The breach in trust is seen where the assumption is if the user opts out, are additional records at the back end created? Users don’t expect Facebook to track or collect their data elsewhere on the web when they’re not on a Facebook property or website so doing it with this feature does not change their expectations. Meta has been under fire multiple times violating consumer expectations. The response to this feature will be interesting when implemented. 

 

Sumon K Chakrabarti, co-founder and CEO, Buffalo Soldiers 

 

As third-party cookies fade out of existence, first-party data is increasingly becoming essential. Meta's 'Link History' feature is very interesting because by utilising this feature, Meta is essentially increasing the overall base of its first-party data manifolds and improving the user experience for the platform all in one brilliant feature.

 

This is a relief for advertisers who were worried about the adverse effects of a cookie-less world on targeting accuracy. As Meta records the 'Link History' data it would use it to improve the accuracy of Lookalike and Interest-based ads.

 

It's important to note that the specific details and implications of a feature like 'Link History' would depend on the implementation and how well it aligns with privacy best practices. As the landscape of privacy and data protection continues to evolve, companies need to adapt their practices to maintain user trust and comply with emerging regulations.

 

Tara Kapur, India marketing head, Duolingo English Test

 

The 'Link History' feature is a reflection of the evolving dynamics between users and platforms, where both convenience and privacy take precedence. From a user experience perspective, the feature provides a way for individuals to revisit and manage their online engagements. On the other hand, for advertisers, it’s a great way to understand online behaviour better and deliver better ROI. It's quite similar to what other browsing platforms already track. Meta needs to make sure they can maintain a balance, where technology serves advertisers better without compromising users’ sense of privacy. Being clear about what data is collected and giving users control to opt out is crucial.

 

 

 

 

 

Gautam Madhavan, founder and CEO, Mad Influence

 

Transparency and user empowerment: Promote a culture of transparency by ensuring users are adequately informed about the data collection process and its intended purposes. Develop clear and succinct privacy policies, complemented by user-friendly interfaces facilitating seamless management of individual preferences, to cultivate a sense of trust.

 

Opt-in frameworks: Adopt opt-in mechanisms for functionalities involving data collection, requiring users to actively choose participation rather than necessitating proactive steps to avoid it.

 

Anonymisation and aggregation practices: Whenever feasible, employ anonymisation and data aggregation techniques to safeguard individual identities, allowing for the extraction of valuable insights while preserving personal privacy.

 

Limited data retention: Constrain the retention period of user data to the minimum required for feature functionality. Regularly purge extraneous data to mitigate the risks associated with potential data breaches and unauthorised access.

 

Robust security protocols: Implement comprehensive security measures, encompassing encryption, secure storage practices, and routine security audits to identify and rectify potential vulnerabilities, thereby safeguarding user data.

 

User education initiatives: Undertake initiatives to educate users on the advantages of specific data features and their contributions to an enhanced user experience. Furnishing clear examples of data usage facilitates informed privacy decisions.

 

Adherence to privacy regulations: Maintain compliance with pertinent privacy regulations such as GDPR, CCPA, and other regional laws, ensuring alignment of data practices with legal standards and expectations.

 

Establishment of continuous feedback mechanism: Institute a feedback loop that allows users to express concerns or preferences related to privacy matters. This iterative process enables adjustments based on user input and evolving privacy norms.

 

Ethical considerations: Deliberate upon the ethical ramifications of data collection and utilisation. Prioritise user well-being and privacy over extensive data gathering for commercial purposes, demonstrating a commitment to ethical considerations.

 

Source:
Campaign India

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