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Facebook Shadow Profiles

Discussion Papers 1998, 13 S.

Luis Aguiar, Christian Peukert, Maximilian Schäfer, Hannes Ullrich


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Data is often at the core of digital products and services, especially when related to online advertising. This has made data protection and privacy a major policy concern. When surfing the web, consumers leave digital traces that can be used to build user profiles and infer preferences. We quantify the extent to which Facebook can track web behavior outside of their own platform. The network of engagement buttons, placed on third-party websites, lets Facebook follow users as they browse the web. Tracking users outside its core platform enables Facebook to build shadow profiles. For a representative sample of US internet users, 52 percent of websites visited, accounting for 40 percent of browsing time, employ Facebook’s tracking technology. Small differences between Facebook users and non-users are largely explained by differing user activity. The extent of shadow profiling Facebook may engage in is similar on privacy-sensitive domains and across user demographics, documenting the possibility for indiscriminate tracking.

Hannes Ullrich

Deputy Head of Department in the Firms and Markets Department

JEL-Classification: D18;L4;L5;L86
Keywords: Facebook, privacy, user data, web tracking, shadow profiles
Frei zugängliche Version: (econstor)