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.