Mozilla has launched a new project tasked with tracking Facebook every time it tracks user activity and collects valuable data. Meta — previously known as Facebook — uses a Facebook Pixel tool, that can be embedded on a website, to track a user’s online browsing activity and to measure the effectiveness of an ad campaign. It is said to be capable of collecting web browsing data of users that don’t even have a Facebook account.
Facebook Pixel — which exists as a few lines of code — is widely used by businesses of varied scales across the globe for assessing parameters such as ad conversion and website traffic. However, it has also been misused, and even Meta was recently found to be lying about its data collection promises. Meta is not a fan of sharing the data it collects for research purposes, especially those looking into the impact of its social media platforms. Some company executives are even trying to choke CrowdTangle, a tool that journalists and researchers widely use to study the spread of content on Facebook.
As part of its Rally efforts, Mozilla and The Markup have launched a study that aims to look at how the Facebook Pixel network works by performing an in-depth analysis on the kind of data it harvests, and how it is shared. To do so, Mozilla created a Rally browser extension that is currently available for Firefox users in the US, although there are plans to port it over on other browsers as well. Mozilla notes that the data collected by Rally will solely be used for investigative journalism and research, and won’t be shared with a third party.
The browser extension will collect the same data that Meta extracts using its Facebook Pixel network. Those who sign up for the study will also be sharing 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 web page. Before alarms bells sound, Mozilla assures that the collected data will be de-identified, which means all the web browsing information will be anonymized and shared in an aggregated form.
If that sounds familiar, it’s because Apple now allows big-pocket clients like Snapchat and Facebook to collect user data, but only if it’s anonymized and grouped, and not traceable to each user. Data harvesting is normal, but Apple is allowing these companies to collect user data even if 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 assures that all the data that participants agree to share is encrypted before it leaves the browser, and it only gets decrypted when it reaches a secure server providing an internet-devoid safe environment.
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