Facebook Finally Admits To Using Cookies – But What Does It Mean?

Users who logged on to Facebook this morning were greeted with something they hadn’t seen before – an admission by Facebook that, yes, they use cookies. This is something that most internet users will be more that used to, with pretty much every other site on the web giving a similar policy warning. Why have Facebook just started using something that the rest of the internet has been utilising as standard for so long? The simple answer is – they haven’t.

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For those unaware, a cookie is a small file (or, as Facebook put it ‘piece of text’) used to store information on your computer, laptop, tablet or other device. This can be done so that sites can remember certain preferences of individual users, to store passwords or – more typically – so that sites can remember what content you’ve been looking at, and to tailor their experience accordingly. There’s one reason that most sites use them, though – in order to market to you across different platforms once you’ve clicked away from the site. You can opt out, by signing up with the Interactive Digital Advertising Alliance – but not many people do, and some sites (as we’ll see) ignore this request anyway.

How do Facebook cookies work?

You’ll have likely noticed that once you visit certain sites, you start seeing adverts for them everywhere else. A personal experience of this happened just this morning. Over the past few days, I’ve been indulging in Euro ’96 nostalgia (including creating this themed playlist – forgive me), and looking at purchasing the England shirts that were worn during the tournament. Umbro have made their own recreations of these classics, including the famous grey shirt – so I browsed the Size? website to see how much they were. At £45, they were a little too pricey for me, so I clicked away. However, today – with the relevant Size? cookie lodged in my computer, without my knowledge – I saw this advert in my Facebook feed:

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All this makes it sound very seedy, but this is a tactic that all major online stores deploy – and it is highly lucrative. Fact is, I probably will end up purchasing one of those shirts once payday rolls around, and when I do decide to make the decision to buy, it is likely that Size? will be front and centre, waiting to take my money. In addition to this, it is reassuring to see content on my Facebook feed which is relevant to me and my interests rather than, say, another advert for app which I have no intention of installing.

But if this has been the case for so long, why has it taken Facebook so long to announce it? As The Guardian reported last year, the company have been operating in what might call a legal grey area – or, depending on your point of view, they’ve been breaching EU law. The company’s tracking of user behaviour has been such that the aforementioned article suggested the company have been tracking people who are not registered users of the platform, and even tracking those who have explicitly opted out of being tracked by cookies. On top of all this, that they weren’t alerting people to their use of cookies was certainly illegal.

What’s going to change after this Facebook cookie announcement?

So what does Facebook’s step today mean, and how does it affect you? The short answer is – nothing’s changed, and everything is going to carry on as normal. However, by finally falling in line with European law, it looks as though the company might be finally realising it is better to fall in line and be up front with their users about their practices, rather than not letting them peek around the curtain. Facebook – much like the other online behemoth, Google – don’t like their users knowing too much about their internal mechanics, and as cookies are a rather large part of their draw for advertisers (and, therefore, a large proportion of their marketing income), it is understandable that they’d want to keep things quiet. Regardless, people fundamentally have a right to know how their data is being used, and this clarification on their cookie policy shouldn’t be heralded as a major step forward – but the absolute bare minimum that the company should be doing.

You can read Facebook’s cookie policies on their site here. If you’re interested (legally) using cookies for your own Facebook remarketing, or would like to take on any kind of social media campaign, give one of our team a call on 0800 808 9980 and we’d be happy to talk you through it. You can also reach us on Facebook & Twitter if you’d prefer to keep your discussions purely social.