back to article Facebook tests sinister CURSOR-TRACKING in hunt for more ad bucks

Facebook is reportedly looking at new methods of data mining that would silently track a user's actions on the free content ad network. According to the Wall Street Journal, the Mark Zuckerberg-run company is experimenting with technology that would monitor cursor movements on the site to track how individual users respond to …

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  1. Zog The Undeniable
    Black Helicopters

    Presumably they have an AdBlock Plus tracker, too? I'm not on FB but the wife is, and she says she never sees any adverts.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      I hope not, then again, I'm also hoping they don't roll out this cursor tracking biz. I'm sure there's some data protection law against this. Wouldn't that come under the same catagory as a keylogger?

      1. Ian Yates

        I clearly don't work in the ad-peddling industry for a reason, but in my wildest imagination I can't see the benefit of this. Maybe it's because I'm a trackball user, but I regularly move the cursor around the screen without any relation to my next action; what are they going to learn from that?

        Assuming ads work (which is something else I don't understand), people either click on them or not... which is surely all the mouse tracking you need?

    2. Bernard M. Orwell Silver badge

      AdBlocker Plus

      AdBlock trackers are already a reality I'm sorry to say. If you go to ITV Player and run an adblocker on IE or Chrome, the player detects it and promptly pops up a nag screen telling you how bad a person you are. Said Nag screen sits in front of you for about the same amount of time it would've taken to watch the adverts before proceeding with playing your content.

      very annoying indeed.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: AdBlocker Plus

        Considering the ITV player insists on shoving ads into my face as often as if I were watching live TV, but without the option to pause and fast forward, I tend to choose alternative streaming websites. Their loss.

      2. Kubla Cant Silver badge

        Re: AdBlocker Plus

        A few years ago, when I couldn't find a decent ad-blocker for Chrome on Linux, I installed Privoxy, an ad-blocking proxy server. I haven't updated the block list for a good while, but it still seems to keep out most of the junk.

        As it's a proxy server, rather than a browser add-on, it works transparently for all browsers. Also, it returns a dummy response for all requests, which I imagine makes it much harder for anti-ad-blocking software to detect the block.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Why not just stick wires up everyone's a*se and plug them into a USB port so Facebook can scan the s*it that comes out of them.

      Sleep walk into this at your peril, but I think maybe one day they will overstep the mark.

    4. Spearchucker Jones

      @zog

      No need for an ad blocker. Get a surface. Browse FB using the browser in Metro (touch only), and serious web sites using desktop IE (mouse).

      Top them apples!

  2. Eddy Ito Silver badge
    Coat

    Finally

    We'll get some good performance analytics so folks can really up their game in the various Mafia Vampire Farm games!

    Seriously though, will they also be doing dexter cursor-tracking? It seems a bit one sided if they don't.

    1. Ian Yates
      Joke

      Re: Finally

      "Mafia Vampire Farm"

      I would play that game!

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Clearly I am out of touch ..

    When did browsers allow access to the absolute cursor position ?

    1. lansalot

      Re: Clearly I am out of touch ..

      onMouseOver event also helps.

    2. Gulraj Rijhwani

      Re: Clearly I am out of touch ..

      It is more likely relative cursor positition within the browser window, and you can get at it with Javascript.

      1. Someone Else Silver badge
        Flame

        @ Gulraj Rijhwani Re: Clearly I am out of touch ..

        Cue the hosannahs for both No-Script and Ghostery!

    3. bigtimehustler

      Re: Clearly I am out of touch ..

      Ever since browsers have supported JS, so a very long time. While the cursor is over the page of the site that has the JS on it, it can always find the x,y position of the cursor. People have also been tracking this way for a long time too, its just that when its facebook, it gets more publicity!

    4. Tom 38 Silver badge

      Re: Clearly I am out of touch ..

      Clearly too young to remember web pages with JS mouse trails .

    5. midcapwarrior

      Re: Clearly I am out of touch ..

      About 10 years ago.

      I worked for a firm that sold the technology for ecommerce sites.

      The idea was to follow the user on the screen as well as how they moved through a web site.

      The info is useful in figuring where users are running into problems on a site and tracking entry and exit points through site pages.

      Generated a visual representation of page and site activity.

      Info was anonymous but generated a great deal of data.

      Not a problem with today's databases and data warehouses.

  4. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge
    Trollface

    So what

    I am not a Product. At least, not to Facebook.

    1. Gulraj Rijhwani

      Re: So what

      The only way you are not Facebook's product is if you are not a Facebook member.

      1. Swarthy Silver badge
        Black Helicopters

        Re: So what

        The only way you are not Facebook's product is if you are not a Facebook member, and no-one you know is either.

        FTFY.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: So what

          I searched on FB for my name and came up with a load of other people. So I guess I'm in the clear for a while.

          Everyone I know that matters knows that I think BF and TW are just variations of the Bubonic Plague and need to be avoided at all costs. Many are now former FB & TW users.

          You can live a full and productive life without either of them. As for Zuck's intention of getting everyone in the world on FB, well he can go *uck himself. How many NSA backdoors are there in FB? Get everuone on board and the spooks have a ready insight into what everyone is doing . Do we really want that? No sirrreeee.

          1. DropBear Silver badge
            Unhappy

            Re: So what

            "You can live a full and productive life without either of them." - you sure can (and I do), but it's certainly getting incredibly hard: I just wish I had a dollar for every time something I actually was interested in following shrugged me off with "well we have updates on FB and TW - what else do you want? What, 'RSS'? Wozzat...?"

      2. Sentinel59
        Meh

        Re: So what

        Not necessarily. If you have friends or family that are members, your contact information may wind up with Facebook. Also, many websites link to Facebook and they collect information on visits; members on not. I am a former member and have edited my host file to filter out as much of their garbage as possible.

    2. Florence
      Black Helicopters

      So naive

      Unless you run Ghostery or similar in order to block all FB trackers, then you do not even need an account to be a FB product.

      Even so, chances are they have your name and phone number because you probably know people who have an account, and at least one of them will have sync'ed their phone contacts to FB...

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: So naive

        Me naive? Far from it. Every FB domain and IP is blocked on all my systems and in my router. By the way that means (At the last count) more than 200 IP's. They keep adding new ones. Google Ad services are also persona non grata.

        FB do not know my name and certainly not my phone number. If you search for me on the internet you get nothing. Sure there are plenty of people with the same name as me but there are no links that will take you to me. At all the sites I comment on I use aliases and very different ones at that.

        Any cold callers get told to S**k their you know whats.

        So, go on find me. I'll give 100quid to Children in need if you can come up with my phone number.

        1. Florence

          Re: So naive

          @AC: I realise this appeared below your comment, but this was really in reply to the comments above yours.

          I am actually surprised so many people on el Reg seem unaware the likes of FB, TW, disqus track users from site to site, whether they have an account or not.

          1. DropBear Silver badge

            Re: So naive

            "I am actually surprised so many people on el Reg seem unaware the likes of FB, TW, disqus track users from site to site, whether they have an account or not." - I'm just curious: would that be via the third-party cookies I never used allow, or via the embedded "social" / "sharing" buttons even the latest Adblock Plus offers to remove (thank heavens!)...?

  5. SnowCrash

    I can't remember the last time I saw an advert of FB. Doesn't ABP defeat all their advertising efforts?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Not entirely..

      I can't remember the last time I saw an advert of FB. Doesn't ABP defeat all their advertising efforts?

      Not if you are using Chrome... If you are using Google Chrome with ADP the adverts do get loaded they are just hidden from the view, so you don't see them, but the browser has loaded them... Contrast that to say Firefox + ADP where it doesn't even call the adserver once a URL has been blocked with a *....

      Personally there's no better approach than editing the hosts file for me...

      1. Prndll

        Re: Not entirely..

        I'm a big believer in the hosts file. But it doesn't catch everything. It catches alot though. I filter out over 216,000 sites with it and I still have to watch what comes in. Personally, I'm surprised this doesn't get more attention than it does.

  6. Ralph B

    Next Step

    The next step will have FaceBook moving the mouse for you ... and clicking the ads.

  7. Eguro
    Facepalm

    Is the idea that user look at where the mouse is?

    Because I feel rather sure the exact opposite is true. That little mouse-cursor is the bane of my reading/watching/lol'ing/liking experience! It is retired to some remote corner of the screen until I have need of its services again.

    Also I would somehow expect this to backfire - even if it's somehow a good way of figuring out where users are looking. Oh look 98% of users never even look at the ads, and it seems all our ad-clicks are performed when a user has some sort of seizure.

    1. Steve Todd

      Absolutely

      The only thing a mouse gets to do while I'm reading a web page is scroll, and that from as far out of the way I can manage. If I want to click on something then it gets to move, but they track what you click on anyway.

    2. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

      I think my mouse tends to sit somewhere to the vague right-hand side of the screen. So it would pretty much always be hovering over Facebook adverts. Or at least it would if I logged on more than once every 6 weeks...

      I use the mouse wheel to scroll, so the only time the mouse moves, is when I'm moving it to click on something. At which point I click on it, unless interrupted.

      Maybe Facebook are hoping that this is the case for most people. A large majority being right-handed. In which case they can blame the advertisers. They can say, our users were hovering over your ads, ready and waiting to click, but your ads were so shit - they just didn't bother. We're doing our job, sack your ad agencies...

      1. Someone Else Silver badge
        Go

        @Sparticus

        Actually, I suspect you are right for more of the surfing populace than you realize. And this, then, might just be the beginning of the end for Zuckerbitch. Consider the following: Many, many surfers simply dump the cursor off to the right, which ends up parking the cursor over some random, nondescript ad. As the user scrolls through the page, the cursor hovers over other nondescript ads. This continues for some period of time, and the admen whose ads are randomly hovered over spend money sending out "targeted" ads, which are of course ignored. At some point, the admen realize that their ROI is not what was expected from Zuckerbitch's new hifalutin' tracking technology (for which they paid big bucks to subscribe to). Lawsuits follow, and (with any kind of luck), the admen avoid FacePalm like the plague that it is.

        The rest is, as they say, left as an exercise for the reader....

        1. Jamie Jones Silver badge
          Thumb Up

          Re: @Sparticus

          Exactly!

          Phew! I was beginning to think I was unusual in that when looking at the screen, I 'track' with my eyes, not my mouse!

          And as you point out, even scrolling is generally done with the mouse-wheel.!

  8. bpfh Silver badge
    FAIL

    How long people spend hovering over ads... about 0.2 seconds to hit the "close" button...

    Do people actually look at the ads except to close them (and answer that it offends them or find them un-interesting in the popup questionnaire?)?

    Second, having ads is great, but the only ads I ever notice is that they are all for dating sites and never anything else... it get's old very fast...

  9. Elmer Phud

    Ads on Facebook?

    Not seen any.

    Well, not true - there are posts about sunglasses and trainers and training and stuff.

    Oh, and this morning a request from a nice lady in Switzerland asking me to be her friend and (though I didn't translate the French) something about money and a percentage for looking after it.

    Oddly enough, it appeared that several gentlemen of a certain age had befriended the lady, sad - so sad.

  10. GordonJ

    Waste of time

    Does this not just sound like a waste of time? With touch screens, the cursor is just surely where it was last clicked and in a web browser, do people really move the cursor to where they're looking? It seems irrelevant on newer touch devices and destined to provide meaningless data on older ones... Why bother?

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Sorry to be so blunt...

    But what type of assh0le clicks on a FB ad? The same type of muppet that orders viagra via spam links perhaps? WTF? I can understand how FB makes huge money displaying ads to one side for its real customers. I can see how that model works. Its like TV advertising. But who clicks on these ads and why? I don't know a single person who does. But clearly some users are happily clicking away if we are to believe FB. That is, assuming these are trustworthy figures, and not just made-up fodder to seduce FB's real customers.....

    1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

      Re: Sorry to be so blunt...

      I've clicked on a lot more ads since getting an iPad. Come to think of it, I've clicked a good few since getting a phone with a browser as well. Small screen + touch controls + large fingers = ooopsie.

      Particularly when El Reg run those ones that fill the whole background of the page, so you go to scroll downwards, leave finger on too long, and get a press instead of a swipe. I hope I've made a small contribution to the El Reg hacks' beer-fund...

      I'm not normally an online ad clicker. I can only remember clicking on one deliberately in the last few years. Which was a Microsoft Office 360 one on here, as I was planning to look up the prices that day anyway - and it popped up at just the correct time. I have deliberately looked at the Facebook ads, and been shocked by the low quality, from such a well-known site. At least half the ads on there seem to be scams (of various sorts) - and if I were a legitimate advertiser, I wouldn't want to use Facebook because of the association. The chances of your ad turning up next to one of those 'work from home for an hour a day and earn $1,000', or 'get free iPhone' types are extremely high. Not to mention all the 'diet secrets', body-building 'honest it ain't drugs but a supplement' ones, and the Thai/Russian brides.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Sorry to be so blunt...

        @I ain't Spartacus

        Your predicament highlights the need for a stylus pen for use on all pads and phones, then there would not be the problem with fat fingers (or even grease/sweat marks on the screen).

      2. Tiny Iota
        Thumb Up

        Re: Sorry to be so blunt...

        try http://m.theregister.co.uk/

  12. Maharg

    Is this not only going to show if people hover over ads or scroll past? Which is going to prove what? That they ‘nearly’ clicked on it? I don’t hover over things when thinking about clicking them, so yet I might consider it more than someone who just happened to move the mouse over the add?

    I really don’t understand why they would want to do this for advertising; it seems a complete waste, unless Facebook are going to charge more for ads because they have this function regardless of if it produces any quantifiable results…

  13. StereoStokey

    Meh

    Oh, you mean like many other sites are already doing, using solutions like Crazy Egg? Not exactly a conspiracy...

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I thought there was some way IE would track your mouse movement even when the browser was minimised.

    Can't remember where the test page was but not nice.

    There really will come a point where FB is (actually widely recognised) NSFW.

    To those who say they are not a product, or member of, facebook, respectufully unless you use a live boot distro on a constantly changing IP address with your phone battery removed, have no friends with your email, avoid all cameras or never come above ground you are still part of the database, just not a self identifying entity.

    You will be on there and I predict in about six months we'll be having the conversation around "didn't realise they used X to profile us! andX will be something like cursor dwell times combined with keyboard audio, CPU temp, WIFI signal attenuation, transient back emf from LCD transisors to use the screen as a camera, keyboard doppler shift for spacial location, fan noise reflection for same. Webcam visual covers will be found to be transparent at the trick uv/ themal region the sensor has. HD audio chips will use the audio wires to read back the RF picked up in the location and extract data in a way defined by the software alone using raw voltage data. One day someone will notice some basic chipset for a simple NFC covers an amazing amount of extra capabilites at harmonics of the base design.

    Google and FB want images of us to feed into the face recognition software scouring the worlds images, they will have a visual fingerprint for you already, and a timeline, they may even have a drone or specially spicy take-away with your name on.

    We are chosing the Blue Pill.

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Failing to turn up a link but I'm sure a leading UK supermarket and the leading UK telco do this already on their webpage.

  16. Old Handle

    I guess the idea is to detect when a user has "almost clicked" an ad? Or something.

  17. Michael H.F. Wilkinson Silver badge
    Joke

    Note to self

    IF I ever log on to facebook, remember to make rapid random cursor movements to confuse system

    Better yet: do not log on to facebook (resisted so far, not tempted yet)

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Note to self

      Keep up the good work. Don't weaken and get consumed by the Borg.

      yours

      Anon, head of the Anti-FB movement,

      Death to FB!

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    this is so yesterday

    <joke> they need to be using user's webcams to track eyeball movement instead. this will be much better at determining where to shove their ads for max impact! </joke>

    1. Will Godfrey Silver badge
      Happy

      Re: this is so yesterday

      Bugritt. Does that mean I've got to get a webcam now?

    2. Prndll

      Re: this is so yesterday

      This is what phones actually do now.

  19. Suburban Inmate

    View 2 more comments

    Noticed how you often have to click to see even just the first one or two comments on something? Blatant bit of interest tracking right there. Still, Zuck's sucked this titty almost dry and the young'uns are wising up to his shenanigans, as indicated by the slowing of signups.

    Personally, I'd like to see TOR become the in thing for the kids. Wishful thinking I know.

  20. ammabamma
    Devil

    Track me via Javascript will you? *I'll give you something to track*

    I wonder if I could write a little Greasemonkey script that will override their cursor tracking gubbins with my custom telemetry?

    Look for the surprising discovery in FB's 2014 Q4 report that says users apparently use their mouse to draw pentagrams in the lower left corner of the screen...

  21. Mitoo Bobsworth
    Joke

    "free content ad network"

    free of content, surely!

  22. Sil

    Let's hope the possibility to track mouse coords or any other tech to spy the user will soon be subjected to users authorizations in the same way they authorize or forbid access to localization information, tracking and such.

  23. Martin H Watson

    log the cat in....

    Then let it play with the mouse.

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