Facebook Location Tracking Draws More Criticism On Capitol Hill

Facebook's refusal to allow people to opt out of location-based ads demonstrates a need for intervention by Congress, Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Missouri) said this week.

“Turn off 'location services' and they’ll STILL track your location to make money (by sending you ads). There is no opting out,” tweeted Hawley, a frequent critic of Silicon Valley. “No control over your personal information. That’s Big Tech. And that’s why Congress needs to take action.”

Hawley, along with Sen. Chris Coons (D-Delaware), recently questioned Facebook over its location-tracking policies, including its practice of deducing information about users' locales, even when they configure their phones to withhold precise GPS data.

“We are concerned this language and practice undermines users' actual control of their location data,” Coons and Hawley wrote to CEO Mark Zuckerberg last month.

At the time, the lawmakers asked the company to answer a host of questions, including whether it targets ads based on inferences about locations.

Rob Sherman, Facebook's Deputy Chief Privacy Officer, recently responded that even when users disable GPS, the company gathers “rough” location data -- meaning city of ZIP code data -- from their IP addresses and other network information.

“When we receive this type of location-related information, we use it to customize people's experience, including by identifying the appropriate language based on their location, showing ads and other content relevant to the area where they are located, and to comply with legal rules, including those that prohibit us from showing certain types of advertisements in particular jurisdictions,” Sherman wrote in a letter made public this week.

In addition to criticism on Capitol Hill, Facebook also faces a potential class-action lawsuit by people who claim the company wrongly draws on their IP addresses to track their locations.

Facebook recently asked U.S. District Court Judge James Donato in San Francisco to dismiss those claims.

“Estimating location based on IP addresses is both a routine practice and a publicly available function, and Facebook’s combination and use of that information to provide and improve Facebook’s services -- as disclosed in its Data Policy -- does not render that practice an 'egregious breach of social norms,'” the company wrote last month.

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