Advertisers on Facebook: who the heck are you and how did you get my data?

Investigating brands using Facebook for advertising, exposing how difficult it is to understand how our data's used and demanding Facebook make it easier to exercise our rights

Angry paiting on yellow canvas

In a moderated effort to improve transparency on its platform Facebook added a feature on July 2019 to allow users to view the advertisers who had uploaded a list containing their personal information. Making use of this feature, PI discovered that many of the brands listed in this section were completely unknown to the user.

What personal information did these brands have and how did they get it? How can we request them to delete it and stop using it to target us? What is Facebook offering to users to exercise their data rights?

This investigation answers these questions through the use of Data Subject Access Requests and shines a light on the practices of some of the companies we found in our accounts. But this was a long and difficult journey which left us with many unanswered questions. Join us and exercise your rights with the companies that target you and help us hold Facebook to account!

What's the problem?

Looking at the list of advertisers who uploaded our data, PI staff found many brands they had never heard of. This meant that companies might process and share our personal data such as email and phone number without our knowledge. You can find out if that is the case for you too in a few clicks. On that basis, we sent these companies Data Subject Access Request to understand why and how they had obtained our personal information. This was a difficult process in which Facebook doesn't provide much help.

Do these companies really have my data?

It depends, some might. In our case a few did and admitted they shouldn't have. But we also encountered cases where brands rely on third party companies to manage their advertising, something that is not clear from the information that Facebook currently provides.

What is Facebook doing?

Facebook improved its user interface in January 2020, while we were conducting this investigation. Nonetheless, there is still a significant lack of transparency on their part regarding what data is uploaded, by who and for what purposes. We have written to Facebook to demand that they fix these problems to offer better transparency to their users and enable them to exercise their rights.