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Facebook says it will be more transparent about tracking users, but critics aren't satisfied

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Facebook this week said it will be more transparent about the way it delivers targeted advertising, as part of a new agreement with the Council of Better Business Bureau. Under the agreement, users will be more clearly alerted to the fact that their browsing behavior is being tracked, though some say the measure doesn't do enough to protect consumer privacy.

By now, Facebook's ad strategy is fairly well known. Tracking its users allows the social network to deliver more targeted advertisements, based on the sites they most regularly visit. Facebook's agreement with the Council won't do anything to change that, but it will make these practices more obvious, with a new AdChoices icon. This blue-and-gray icon will now appear whenever users hover their cursor over the grey "x" on third-party ads, alerting them to the fact that their actions are being tracked.

"It's time for Facebook to face up to informing users in clear black-and-white."

The Better Business Bureau lauded the initiative as a "meaningful step to increase transparency," but critics argue that the AdChoices icon doesn't do enough to help users actually opt out of ads. Users can currently opt out of ads from a single brand or third-party company, but there's no way for them to hide targeted ads altogether. The icon, moreover, will only appear to desktop users who choose to opt-out by placing their mouse over the ad to begin with.

"It’s time for Facebook to face up to informing users in clear black-and-white — not grey — about how it harvests its user information," Jeffrey Chester of the Center for Digital Democracy said in an e-mail to the New York Times.

In a statement provided to Ad Age, Brian Boland, Facebook's director of product marketing, said the AdChoices icon is just one of many ways users can learn about the social network's practices. "We have always given our users the ability to provide feedback on and control the ads they see on Facebook, by hiding, reporting, or clicking through to learn more about why particular ads are being served," Boland said. "Giving advertisers the ability to implement the AdChoices icon provides another option; another mechanism of control."