A decision we made recently at King County, Wash., regarding Facebook pixels and the social network’s ability to track user data on our website is worth sharing here.
In short: Facebook ads for government can be a good thing, but the relatively new “pixel” feature is not something we have authorized.
As we increase our use of Facebook ads for public outreach, I have received several requests to add Facebook pixels to pages on the King County website. The “pixel” refers to an HTML code snippet placed on specific pages that lets Facebook track user “conversions” from advertisements we place. Basically, it lets us know if our ads are effective or not.
Here’s how Facebook pixels work:
- Facebook ads drive people to our website.
- The pixel code allows Facebook to track how many of the people who clicked our advertisement actually register for an event, download a report, take a survey, etc.
- This information gives us a clear conversion rate. For example, if 100 people click our Facebook ad and land on the county website, but only 2 of those 100 people take the action we want them to take (downloading a report, let’s say) then our conversion rate is 2%.
- The goal is to use this data point to make informed decisions, such as whether to improve the website experience to drive up the conversion rate.
Website tracking of this nature is a tactic employed by countless private-sector organizations, and probably some public-sector groups as well. But the data Facebook collects from its pixel feature is not anonymous and can be tied to individual users, often by name. If we allowed this, Facebook would know who did what on the King County website, and it most certainly would use that information to target advertisements to those people later on.
- King County may track information, such as user hits, visits and sessions; however this information cannot be linked to a specific person.
- When King County collects personal information from you, we do not sell or make your personal information available to others without your consent except when legally required or permitted by law, or needed to complete your transaction with the county.
Giving a third-party organization such as Facebook this kind of access to information about our residents could violate the public’s trust. To this end, we consulted our eGovernment team, several local digital media experts, and the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office, which advises our IT department on technical matters.
Derek Belt is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.
Great info and helpful! Thank you for sharing this!
Can you provide the source for the statement, “At issue is the fact that the data Facebook collects from its pixel feature is not anonymous and can be tied to individual users, often by name.”?
Hi Rachel – Here is a link with info on how Facebook pixels work: https://www.shopify.com/blog/72787269-relax-advertising-on-facebook-just-got-a-lot-easier
In short: If you have the Facebook pixel installed, it will track the movements of any visitors on your website who are simultaneously logged into Facebook. It will record which pages on your site they visit, which pages they don’t visit, and when they visit. Using this data, you can advertise to very targeted groups of people.
The part about tracking people “who are simultaneously logged into Facebook” is the key. Let’s say someone is using Facebook and sees an ad about shoes that they click on. If the shoe company’s website has the Facebook pixel installed, Facebook’s advertising metrics will track whether that user actually bought the shoe—or whatever the goal is for a certain website.
Facebook reports this information to you in its analytics dashboard so you can see that of the 100 people who clicked your ad, only 2 of them bought a pair of shoes. That’s what we get out of it as the business. Makes sense, and it’s very helpful for marketers.
What does Facebook get out of it? A LOT MORE! Back to the part about people “who are simultaneously logged into Facebook.” Facebook is watching very carefully what all of us does on its website so that it can use that information to build advertising profiles on each of us. For example, if you click on lots of stories about dogs and cats you can expect to start seeing advertising in your news feed about pets. That’s how Facebook works.
The pixel allows Facebook to track what each individual user does on OTHER websites. So those people who visited your shoe company’s website and giving Facebook extra data on what you did on the shoe company’s website and what you clicked on or purchased. Facebook, then, uses that information to keep building its advertising profile on you, which its sells to others looking to reach certain audiences.
This is great for the shoe company, but we don’t feel it’s appropriate to give Facebook that kind of data about what people are doing on a government website. As a side note, Google Analytics does not track people by name, only behavior. Facebook, on the other hand, needs to know WHO is clicking on what on the shoe company’s website so it can use that information in the future to better target advertising to that one person.
hi , can you please explain what’s the purpose of this article when you indeed have facebook pixels in this website?
The article is about Facebook pixels not being allowed on the King County government website. Not this GovLoop website.
Why anyone would allow Mark Suckerberg, master NSA Spy, to access your privacy and daily life 24/7 with no place safe from their watchful eyes? And that is literally human eyes reading your posts, looking at your pictures, viewing your videos, watching your live feeds, tracking your location, knowing what you watch/read/eat/use at any and all times. No Farcebook account, no problem. Each and everyone of these account/user trackers can also track those with no account and those who have but are not logged in. All of this information has long been available to tech geeks and security professionals.