Facebook Provides Businesses Location-Tracking Data

Last November Facebook launched a new initiative that lets businesses see how many Facebook users are in the vicinity of retail stores. Now, Facebook also lets businesses know the percentage of those passerby that may have seen the brand’s ad on the social media platform within the past month. Available for free to any business that advertises on Facebook and uses the page’s location features, the initiative comes in the form of a new local insights tab within Facebook’s page. On the tab, Facebook provides trend information, rather than the actual number of people that passed near a store, allowing businesses to see when particular groups of people are more or less likely to be nearby business locations and what times of the day or days of the week are the busiest in the neighborhood. That information includes breakdowns by age and gender, as well as whether people are from out of town or live within 200 kilometers of a store’s location. Facebook users who do not want the company to gather this type of location information about them can turn off the location tracking by clicking on account settings and then location settings.


The desire among businesses to collect information on consumers is not new. Duhigg (2012) posits that large retailers like Target, for example, have been collecting vast amounts of data on customers from basic demographic information to the kind of topics they talk about online for years. The company’s goal: to understand consumer’s shopping and personal habits in order to market to them more efficiently.


Thanks to social media platforms businesses can gather even more insights into consumer’s habits to expand sales. Insights, according to Young (2014, p. 64), help creative agencies decide what to say in advertising, on the one hand, and help the agency creative people develop ideas and ads that connect with their targets, on the other. With Facebook’s latest geolocation initiative, companies will likely be able to generate even more compelling insights and therefore even more customized and targeted marketing campaigns unique to each audience to drive in-store traffic.

Despite its advantages for businesses, Facebook’s local insights tab does pose a number of ethical dilemmas. Should Facebook disclose users’ GPS tracking to businesses? Should businesses let Facebook users know they are tracking consumers’ locations to gather insights on them? How can businesses market more efficiently to consumers without letting them know they’re studying their lives? These are only a few of the questions businesses should contemplate when deciding to use geo-location data to reach their target audience.


Duhigg, C. (2012, February 16). How companies learn your secrets. The New York Times Magazine. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/19/magazine/shopping-habits.html?_r=0

Facebook now helps businesses see how many shoppers are nearby. (2016, February 24). Ad Age. Retrieved from http://adage.com/lookbook/article/social-media/facebook-helps-businesses-shoppers-nearby/302482/

Young, A. (2014). Brand media strategy: Integrated communications planning in the digital era. New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan.

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3 Responses to Facebook Provides Businesses Location-Tracking Data

  1. Brita says:

    Your post raises quite a few questions about the present and future of data collection and the ethical protection of consumer privacy. Is it reasonable to expect that someone who uses Facebook on their phone has it on them when they are walking around to do shopping? Yes, most likely. Is it reasonable to expect that someone who has a phone with Facebook installed wants their location tracked and shared with businesses who want them to purchase? That’s very grey, and probably not likely.
    While it is nice to feel like a store is making every effort to make me comfortable and interested in what they have to sell, especially if it is for hard to find or unique products, for commonplace items, do we really need to be targeted at all times for all things? I’ve received an ad for drain cleaner on my Facebook page, when previously I had never done a search for a product like that on my phone or desktop ever. However, I had been in the drain cleaner aisle at Target, comparing prices before buying Drain-o. The geotargeting of this remarketing strategy was astounding. But it was also creepy and made me feel violated. I’m sure I’m not the only one who has experienced this, and as more people become aware of how social media tracks and shares their information, we will be seeing more questions like the ones you posed in this thoughtful discussion.

  2. steffanl says:

    I agree that big data has advantages in people’s lives, but it is also worth questioning that it also put people’s privacy at risk. If one day all the big data gathered together, it can predict a lot of things, and individuals’ secrets and privacy would be exposed to the public. In my opinion, social media have to inform their users while collecting their information; they should ask for uses authorization before collecting any data from the users.

  3. ruopianf says:

    Great topic! It is true that enterprise best practices for working with big data are still emerging, but there are already lessons that can help move this promise of innovation forward without sacrificing the privacy of personal data. Actually I think the best safety net for accuracy of personal data (and in turn enable better data privacy practices) is to encourage and invite, not just provision, a process for consumers to access, review and correct information that has been collected about them. This is daunting to many early adopters of big data because they often collect large volumes of data they never even use. There may be a fear of letting consumers see just how much detailed personal data has been collected about them, but this level of transparency is the best way to achieve consumer trust and confidence in decisions being made using big data.