Facebook's data collection practices may be more massive in scale than users may think, a recent study from Consumer Reports reveals.
The investigation, based on data from 709 volunteers, discovered that 186,892 companies transmitted user data to Facebook. On average, each participant had their information shared by 2,230 companies, with some individuals experiencing data transmission by over 7,000 companies.
The study focused on "server-to-server" tracking, an often-hidden form of data collection where personal data travels from companies' servers to Meta's servers.
Retail Giants Among Most Frequently Seen
Major retailers such as Home Depot, Macy's, Walmart, Amazon, Etsy and Paypal, were among the top contributors to Facebook's expansive data pool.
Data broker LiveRamp was particularly prevalent, appearing in 96% of participants' data.
Other prominent companies include Acxiom and Experian Marketing Services - Audiences, two data brokers, as well as the digital agency Hearts & Science.
Consumer Reports' study also flagged limitations in Meta's transparency tools, citing unclear data provider identities and companies ignoring opt-out requests. Despite Meta's defense of its practices, concerns persist about the effectiveness of these measures in protecting user privacy.
What Is the Solution?
In response to the findings, Consumer Reports recommended policy proposals aimed at enhancing data collection practices.
These proposals, which could contribute to a potential national digital privacy law, include:
- Requiring companies to adopt "data minimization" strategies
- Empowering authorized agents to act on behalf of consumers
- Increasing ad transparency through ad archives similar to the EU's Digital Services Act
Caitriona Fitzgerald, Deputy Director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, emphasized the burden on consumers to protect their privacy and called for legislative action. "A lot of people are not going to have the time or knowledge to do that," Fitzgerald added.
Meta spokesperson Emil Vazquez defended the company's practices, stating that they would "continue to invest in data minimization technologies to keep up with evolving expectations."