Here's How Facebook Tracks You When You're Not On Facebook

During his two-day marathon testimony in Washington this week, Facebook CEO impress Zuckerberg looked particularly uncomfortable answering basic questions approximately how Facebook tracks people when they’re not using Facebook. In case you hadn’t already heard, yes, it’s factual: Facebook can track your online activity even whether you aren’t signed in to Facebook.

He squirmed under questioning from Sen. Roger Wicker: “There maintain been reports that Facebook can tracks a user’s internet browsing activity even after that user has logged off of the Facebook platform. Can you confirm whether or not this is factual?” Sen. Wicker asked.

“Senator, I want to achieve certain I procure this accurate so it would probably be better to preserve my team follow up afterwards,” Zuckerberg responded, before being pressed and giving an incomplete retort.

The favourable news is that the retort to Sen. Wicker’s question isn’t only in a report — it’s on Facebook’s website in its support section. Here’s how Facebook can learn approximately what you execute online even when you’re not on its platform.

You know those Facebook “Like” buttons you see around the internet? (There’s even one on this article.) They’re tracking your browsing activity whether you’re a Facebook user or not. “whether you’re logged into Facebook and visit a website with the Like button, your browser sends us information approximately your visit,” Facebook’s website says. “whether you’re logged out or don’t maintain a Facebook account and visit a website with the Like button or another social plugin, your browser sends us a more limited set of info.”

Here’s what Facebook says it tracks when you’re not logged in: “We receive info approximately the web page you’re visiting, the date and time and other browser-related info. We record this info to support us improve our products.”

The Facebook pixel is a piece of code advertisers assign on their sites that tracks your activity on those sites and reports it back to Facebook. Here’s how Facebook explains how it works: “When someone visits your website and takes an action (for example, buying something), the Facebook pixel is triggered and reports this action. This way, you’ll know when a customer took an action after seeing your Facebook ad. You’ll also be able to reach this customer again by using a custom audience.”

Businesses can upload their data to Facebook to see whether the ads they rush on Facebook lead to sales in their stories; they execute this via something Facebook calls offline conversions. Here’s how Facebook’s website describes them to advertisers: “Facebook’s offline conversion measurement solution helps you understand which offline events, such as purchases in your retail store or orders made over the phone, happened as a result of your Facebook ads.” Businesses upload their in-store sales data in spreadsheet format and then Facebook matches that data with the people that saw its ads.

Alex Kantrowitz is a senior technology reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in San Francisco. He reports on social and communications.

Contact Alex Kantrowitz at

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