How you can see which companies found you on Facebook

Rob Pegoraro
Facebook has announced new ad-transparency features to help you know how companies find you, but it’s not likely to stop a tracking industry.

Facebook just added some helpful new tools to remind you of your own powerlessness.

These new ad-transparency measures illuminate the role in Facebook marketing of other firms collecting and sharing your information.

Facebook announced these two features in a blog post Thursday by product manager Sreethu Thulasi. Both can provide valuable context into how companies find you on the social network via what Facebook calls a Custom Audience, but both can be easy to overlook.

The first lurks behind a three-dot menu at the top right of each Facebook ad in your News Feed: Click or tap that and select “Why am I seeing this ad?”

On an ad from HP, this revealed a surprisingly clear explanation of the chain of transactions that led to the ad’s appearance.

First, a marketing firm named LiveRamp uploaded a scrambled list of contacts that Facebook then compared against its own records to find overlapping users – without telling the company which people in particular matched. (I’ve confirmed that in my own experimentation with Facebook ads.) Then HP sent ads to this Custom Audience.

A second ad for the Ascent tech conference in New York was less helpful, saying only that the event “wants to reach people who may be similar to their customers.” Since I’m speaking at said conference, the ad was also wasted money.

Is Facebook listening to me? Why those ads appear after you talk about things

#IceCreamChallenge: Why are they trying to ruin ice cream for everyone – in summer?

Facebook’s second new ad-transparency feature awaits in your advertising preferences (facebook.com/ads/preferences) under the “Advertisers and Businesses” category, where you’ll see two groups of companies inventoried.

Firms described as those “Who uploaded a list with your info and advertised to it” (meaning in the last seven days) shouldn’t be that much of a mystery.

In my case, they include HBO, Crate and Barrel’s CB2 furniture store, the bank holding the mortgage on our home, and the Ecco footwear firm. Mousing over the top-right corner of each advertiser listed will reveal an “X” you can click or tap to hide their ads.

But the companies listed under a heading titled “Who have uploaded and shared a list with your info” may not be nearly as recognizable. For me, they include such data brokers as Oracle Data Cloud, LiveRamp, BrandBastion and Target Marketing Digital –I can’t recall any firsthand transactions with any of them.

Click or tap “View details” below each company’s listing to see a quick description of them, including a “Privacy options” link to opt out of their targeting – plus a list of advertisers that used them to send you an ad in the last 90 days.

This amounts to a fascinating look inside marketing machinery that’s traditionally been sealed from outside inspection, to the confusion of both Facebook users and lawmakers.

But Facebook’s upgraded transparency leaves opaque how these data brokers got your details in the first place. And it’s not likely to stop a tracking industry that predates Facebook’s founding and doesn’t just rely on online tracking of the sort you can thwart with a browser like Apple’s Safari or Mozilla Firefox.

Giving people more control over this acquisition and monetization of their data will require meaningful, national privacy legislation of the sort that the marketing industry has spent years fighting – as an executive with one of these firms admitted Thursday.

"It's been a long time coming,” LiveRamp executive vice president and chief legal officer Jerry Jones said at an event hosted by the  U.S. Chamber of Commerce in Washington before calling for federal privacy regulation.

He cited one reason why that doesn’t exist: “It’s hard!” Another: "We stood in the way of things getting done."

Rob Pegoraro is a tech writer based out of Washington, D.C. To submit a tech question, e-mail Rob at rob@robpegoraro.com. Follow him on Twitter at @robpegoraro.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: How Facebook advertisers are finding you in the first place