Why it matters: Two senators have asked Facebook to explain the need to track users' location at all times, and were met with an unsurprising response - to serve you relevant ads. The company prefers if you give its apps access to Location Services, but it does have other ways of tracking your location even without your permission.
By now it's no secret that companies like Facebook and Google are doing their best to track your location as precisely as they can, since their business model and the utility of their services both depend on it to a great extent.
In the case of Facebook, every now and then it decides to come up with a new explanation on why it needs to use your location, even if you deny it permission to do so. Earlier this year, it was revealed that one reason for that controversial practice is the company is building a "be on the lookout" list of people who might be potential threats to its employees or its physical and online properties.
This week, the social giant has once again confirmed the obvious - it's still tracking your movements in several ways, even if you've turned off location permissions for its apps. According to a letter sent to two US senators and published by The Hill, the company doesn't need direct access to Location Services to get a good idea about where you are, where you are going, and when.
Specifically, Facebook will look at the information you and your friends may provide through your normal activity on the platform. For example, the company can discern your location using geo-tagged content posted on the platform - pictures, check-ins at a restaurant or store, interest shown in an event, and an address provided while using Facebook Marketplace to buy or sell things.
Then there's the less accurate but still adequate monitoring of your IP address, which still gives Facebook a rough idea about which ads and sponsored posts to serve you based on your general location. Deputy chief privacy officer Rob Sherman explains that it helps the company tune its advertising so that it's as relevant as possible for you, the user.
Christopher Coons and Josh Hawley, the two senators that asked Facebook about its location tracking practices, have criticized the company on Twitter for not allowing users to opt out. And just like Apple CEO Tim Cook, they called for tougher privacy regulation.
With the release of the privacy-focused iOS 13, the location tracking usage is reported in great detail to users, prompting Facebook to be more transparent about its practices. However, it said at the time that users are in control over when and how Facebook uses their location info, which seems to apply only to their "precise location."
That said, the company deserves some credit for its candid response. Senator Coons noted "I appreciate Facebook’s attempts to inform users about their privacy choices. However, I am concerned that these efforts are insufficient and even misleading in light of how Facebook is actually treating user data."
In the meantime, if you're a Facebook user and can't do without your account, there are a couple of things you can do to "opt out" of as much location tracking as possible. One solution may be to use one of the VPNs that's been verified to keep no logs and fool the social giant into thinking you're somewhere else. A second solution is to tweak your Facebook privacy settings and ask your friends not to tag you in any of their posts.