Media release: NZ Government enabling Facebook spying on New Zealanders

The New Zealand Government should not be helping Facebook to spy on New Zealanders. Yet by including Facebook supplied tracking technology on government websites that is exactly what it's doing.

It's telling Facebook when you visit the NZ Police "What can I do if I have been sexually assaulted?" webpage, or check the NZTA webpage on how to cancel the driver's license of a deceased relative, or try to decide what hut to visit on the Department of Conservation website.

These websites all include the Facebook Pixel which passes information about your use of the website to Facebook. Facebook then connects this data to your Facebook profile and uses it to better target you with advertisements wherever you go on the internet.

The Government's use of this tracking technology was discovered by PhD law student Kent Newman who has written to the Public Service Commission and the Government's Chief Digital and Privacy Officers to oppose its use. He points out that "Web-tracking technologies are on most Government websites I have reviewed. … What I have found is that many Government websites are not disclosing their use of these tracking tools, making them non-compliant straight out of the gate. Worse than this, many Government websites include statements which are objectively false."

This is also a breach of Facebook's standards for use of the Facebook Pixel which stipulate that "For websites, a clear and prominent notice on each web page where our pixels are used that links to a clear explanation that third parties, including Facebook, may use cookies, web beacons and other storage technologies to collect or receive information from your websites…"

Thomas Beagle, Chairperson of the NZ Council for Civil Liberties says "We don't have any choice about interacting with our own government and some of these interactions are when we're at our most vulnerable. If a relative dies and you go to a government website for advice, you shouldn't have to put up with ads for undertakers following you around the internet."

The NZ Council for Civil Liberties supports people being able to access government websites anonymously without that information being shared with anyone else. We note that this collection of tracking data without consent is illegal in the European Union under the GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation).

Mr Beagle goes on to say "Government websites need to protect the privacy of New Zealanders. Their use of third-party internet tracking technology is unacceptable and needs to cease immediately."

Technical background

From Hootsuite: The Facebook Pixel: What It Is and How to Use It

From Facebook: Facebook Pixel Help and Facebook Pixel technical documentation.

The easiest way to check for Facebook Pixels on sites is to install the Facebook Pixel Helper browser extension for Chrome. You may also have to disable your ad-blocking or privacy protecting software.

You can block the use of Facebook Pixels by installing blocking browser extensions such as the Electronic Freedom Foundation's Privacy Badger or some ad-blocking extensions.