Mozilla has launched a new project that aims to track Facebook every time it tracks user activity and collects valuable data. Meta – formerly known as Facebook – uses a Facebook Pixel tool that can be embedded in a website, to track a user’s online browsing activity and to measure the effectiveness of an ad campaign. It is said to be able to collect web browsing data from users who do not even have a Facebook account.
Facebook Pixel – which exists as a few lines of code – is widely used by companies on various scales across the globe to assess parameters such as ad conversion and website traffic. However, it has also been abused, and even Meta was recently found to be lying about its promises of data collection. Meta is not a fan of sharing the data it collects for research purposes, especially those looking at the impact of its social media platforms. Some business leaders are even trying to stifle CrowdTangle, a tool widely used by journalists and researchers to study the spread of content on Facebook.
As part of their Rally efforts, Mozilla and Markup has launched a study that aims to look at how the Facebook Pixel network works by performing an in-depth analysis of what kind of data it is harvesting and how it is shared. To do so, Mozilla created a Rally Browser extension that is currently available to Firefox users in the United States, though plans to transfer it to other browsers as well. Mozilla notes that the data collected by Rally will be used exclusively for investigative journalism and research and will not be shared with any third party.
Join Facebook Pixel Hunt
The browser extension will collect the same data that Meta extracts using its Facebook Pixel network. Those who sign up for the survey will also share data such as web page URLs, time spent browsing, presence of Facebook cookies, metadata of the visited URLs, the full URL of each web page, and even how far down users scroll on a website. Before the alarm bells ring, Mozilla assures that the data collected will be deidentified, which means that all web browsing information will be anonymized and shared in an aggregated form.
If that sounds familiar, it’s because Apple now allows large pocket clients like Snapchat and Facebook to collect user data, but only if it’s anonymized and grouped and cannot be traced to each user. Data collection is normal, but Apple allows these companies to collect user data even though users have denied them permission to do so, following the release of Apple’s anti-tracking prompts with the iOS 14.5 update. While Mozilla collects anonymized data as part of its Rally research, it also ensures that all the data that participants agree to share is encrypted before leaving the browser, and they are only decrypted when they reach a secure server that provides a safe environment without internet.
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