Facebook pixel: the privacy-invasive tracking technique

Have you heard of Facebook pixel? It's a tool for advertisers on Facebook to increase sales by tracking and gathering data on visitors to their website.

Warning: it's also an effective way for Facebook to collect an extreme amount of knowledge about you – while invading your privacy.

How does Facebook pixel work?

Basically, Facebook provides a unique line of code for an advertiser to embed into their website.

When you visit that website, the code is triggered when you perform certain actions (like adding an item to your cart) and sends that data back to the advertiser's Facebook account.

Here's a standard list of actions that can be tracked:

  • Add to cart
  • Add payment info
  • Add to wish list
  • Complete registration
  • Contact
  • Customize product
  • Donate
  • Find location
  • Initiate checkout
  • Lead
  • Purchase
  • Schedule
  • Search
  • Start trial
  • Submit application
  • Subscribe
  • View content

What's in it for the advertiser?

By collecting such detailed information about website visitors, advertisers can fine-tune their Facebook ads to encourage more sales. Facebook pixel allows advertisers to track conversions, meaning visitors who actually bought a product.

Facebook pixel even allows advertisers to retarget specific individuals. For example, let's say you're logged in to Facebook and click on an ad in your feed that takes you to a business's website. You go as far as adding a product to your shopping cart but then never complete the purchase.

Because pixel allows the advertiser to track your every move, the ad can be run again, this time specifically targeting you and other people who also abandoned their carts. You were obviously interested in the product, so maybe seeing the ad again will get you to finalize that purchase.

This therefore makes ad placement on Facebook and the use of pixel very valuable for advertisers.

Unwanted side effects

The downside of Facebook building its own profile about you and your habits is its ability to use this information for other purposes than what an advertiser had intended.

Here's an example. Let's say you browse the site of a VPN provider that uses pixel (we don't). Facebook will identify you as being interested in VPN services, thereby allowing other VPN providers to target you with their ads. Never mind that you were only interested in that first one.

Facebook can also identify the sites you visited before and after landing on a pixel-coded page, giving them more knowledge about you and your preferences. This information collecting and selling is the social media giant's primary business model, and an extremely profitable one.

You don't even have to have a Facebook account to be affected. The company uses your data to create a profile that represents people like you, with your habits and interests.

Take back your privacy

If you've read this far, then you've probably already concluded that Facebook pixel is very privacy invasive. Your online activity is being tracked, analyzed, targeted, and sold.

But the good news is that there are ways to prevent Facebook pixel from tracking you. Here are a few:

  • Log out of Facebook. If you're logged in, this makes it very easy for Facebook to gather information specifically about you. Don't forget the app on your phone.
  • Use Privacy Badger, a plugin from the Electronic Frontier Foundation that prevents Facebook from following you when you click on an external link.
  • Got Instagram? Newsflash, it's owned by Facebook. Log out of here too.

Don't stop there. Become a privacy ninja!

This is a pixel-free zone

Mullvad does not use Facebook pixel or any other tracking technology on our website – and we never will! Our no-logging policy explains why.

In order to fulfill our mission – making mass surveillance and internet censorship ineffective – we do exist on Facebook, but only to communicate with you and spread the word about our efforts.