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I have done everything that I can think of to prevent companies like Facebook from knowing my actual location, yet recently I've started noticing extremely specific ads from them.

For example, I went bowling for the first time in years, and hours later started seeing bowling advertisements on Facebook. I believe they only knew this due to my phone being physically present in a bowling alley for an hour.

I initially assumed it was just paranoia on my part, but it has happened several more times with stores that I have visited.

Things I have done

  • Uninstall Facebook app
  • Disable location services in iOS
  • Being very cautious of what I type into search engines
  • Avoiding entering store locations into google/apple maps
  • Avoid joining public wifi

I've checked with my cell phone carrier, and they 'promise', that they aren't selling my location.

What other mechanisms could be leaking my location?


Update:

Going into iPhone location services, I discovered that I do still have the 'Facebook Messenger' app installed, and it is by default configured to share my location 'Always'.

  • If you're concerned about tracking, why are you on Facebook at all? It's no secret at this point that they track everything they can, without giving you any significant control, and care so little for your privacy that I can find dozens upon dozens of articles about their constant failure to protect it within minutes. Just quit Facebook if you're that worried about being tracked. – Fund Monica's Lawsuit Jul 14 at 0:41
  • I would love to quit entirely, unfortunately I participate in several organized sports and social groups that only announce meetups on Facebook. – spuder Jul 14 at 4:01
  • Ah, that'd do it, yup. Good luck. – Fund Monica's Lawsuit Jul 14 at 4:43
  • @h4ckNinja No, pareidolia makes sense here. At first, OP thought they were seeing patterns that didn't exist. "Baader–Meinhof effect" would be more precise, but pareidolia still fits. – Fund Monica's Lawsuit Jul 14 at 21:11
  • Generally, Facebook has demonstrated a lack of respect for privacy. The how is a little more complicated. An educated guesses is data mining. If you talk (or they previously tracked you) about being in a city, wanting to go bowling at a later time, they'll put that together for the ads. – h4ckNinja Jul 14 at 22:10
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Here's a couple of channels that may leak your location:

  • friends tagging you in photos
  • friends being in the same place as you (facebook finds friend groups, so if one of your friends is at bowling then FB may just try to advertise bowling to the whole friend group)
  • other sites may have "share with facebook" buttons which report your current ip to facebook

You can test these hypothesis by:

  • not appearing in photos
  • going out to somewhere non-typical alone
  • not opening internet while being outside

Man, hiding from social networks is hard :(

  • 5
    It really is hard, though there's one surprisingly easy trick to avoiding getting tracked: Just don't have friends! Wait, no-- – Fund Monica's Lawsuit Jul 14 at 0:49
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    @NicHartley original version of the answer contained a line "put stickers on your friends' cameras in order to reduce the number of your friends" ;) – Andrew Morozko Jul 14 at 0:51
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Most likely culprit is shadow profiling (this is a pretty good article). This means that Facebook (and most other big tech companies) keep a profile on you even though you aren't specifically logged in.

It's relatively easy to find you based on several metrics, which include but are not limited to:

  • browser user-agent
  • screen resolution
  • IP
  • installed fonts
  • OS

"So, they can know its me, but how can they track me everywhere?" - You, probably

Ads, the "like" and "share" buttons, other type of scripts that people include on their site (like google with their analytics).

In your case, maybe you, or your friends, visited the bowling alleys website and they probably have a like button. There is no doubt that Facebook knows you, your friends and the fact that you are friends.

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Facebook Messenger's App by default shares your location 'Always'. Change that to 'While Using'.

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  • If the UI allows it, you can safely accept this as the definitive answer. – schroeder Jul 18 at 19:57

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