Facebook is under a lot of scrutiny at the moment. It seems politicians have finally cottoned on to what most of us have known for years. That Facebook and other social networks track everything we do and everywhere we go. They also track a whole lot more as we have learned. With all the media coverage, it surprised me when a TechJunkie reader wrote in asking ‘ Does Facebook track your location?’
The concise answer is yes Facebook does track your location. That is far from all it tracks though. Which leads us on to sorting some fact from fiction. Does Facebook listen to your calls? Does it read your messages? Does Facebook monitor you even when offline?
Facebook location tracking
Facebook tracks your location in order to help advertisers connect to you while in a certain geographical location. The process uses your GPS or mobile mast data to triangulate where you are at any given time. Nobody is quite sure whether you are tracked even if you don’t have Facebook open or not. Given the revelations of the past few months, I think it is safest to assume they do.
You can disable this function somewhat.
- Open Facebook on your device.
- Select the three line menu icon in the top right.
- Select Account Settings and Location.
- Select Disable Location History.
- Toggle Location Service to off.
- Launch Settings on your device and select Privacy.
- Select Location Services and Facebook.
- Select Never next to Allow Location Services.
There is a relatively new function in Facebook called Nearby Friends. While you disable location tracking here, it is best to make double sure you’re off the grid.
- Open the Facebook app on your device.
- Select More in the bottom right and select Settings.
- Select Account Settings and Location.
- Select Nearby friends and toggle it to off.
There is a widely held suspicion that even if you turn off location services on your device, Facebook will use your IP address to figure out where you are. If you travel somewhere new and still find localized ads being served in Facebook, this could be a sign this is happening. Your only way around that is to use a VPN on your device.
Does Facebook listen to your calls?
This question came up when I was asking people about Facebook data collection. A couple of friends had seen ads appear in Facebook that were remarkably similar to the contents of a conversation they had that day. Plus, Facebook asks for access to your mic.
Facebook does not (currently) listen to your calls. It cannot listen as it doesn’t have the capacity. It asks for access to your phone mic so you can voice chat using Facebook Messenger.
You can disable this if you don’t use the feature.
- Navigate to Settings and Apps.
- Select Facebook and Permissions.
- Toggle Disable microphone.
In iOS, select Settings, Privacy and Microphone. Toggle off Facebook.
While Facebook does not seem to listen to calls, it does collect call and SMS logs and uploads them. This apparently includes who and when you called or messaged but not the contents of those messages. You can turn it off though.
- Open Facebook Messenger.
- Select your avatar in the top right and select People.
- Turn Syncing to off.
- Confirm your choice.
Does Facebook read your text messages?
Another question that arose when researching this piece was whether Facebook read your SMS or not. The answer is not unless you chose to sync Facebook Messenger on your Android device. Otherwise, apparently FB has no access to your SMS messages.
You can turn it off if you opted in.
- Open Facebook Messenger and select Settings.
- Toggle off ‘Continuous call and SMS Matching’.
Does Facebook monitor you even when offline?
Yes it does but only in a limited way that we know of. We already know that the Facebook app tracks you wherever you go online even if the app has been closed. If you’re offline, you can still be tracked through ‘Offline Conversions’.
Facebook has data arrangements with electronic payment organizations and loyalty card companies. If you make a purchase using a card through one of these organizations, Facebook has access to that data.
While this page is about Facebook, many social networks and other entities track your every move too. Google has something similar to Offline Conversions in their Store Sales Measurement. So while everyone may be vilifying Facebook right now, they are far from the only player in the game. At least now you know how to limit their reach!