Meta starts encoding Facebook URLs, negating tracking countermeasures

The move has made URL stripping impossible, but will improve analytics


Image: Getty via Dennis

Meta has doubled the inclusion of tracking parameters in URLs posted to Facebook, encrypting URLs to include parameters in required parts of the address itself.

When a user clicks on a link shared via Facebook, all kinds of parameters are added to the URL. Some of these, like utm_source and utm_medium, are used by analytics sites like Google Analytics to measure where traffic is coming from and how much of it there is.

Facebook has used the parameter in the past fbclid to measure which sites users visit and which links they click, regardless of whether those sites support the Facebook Meta Pixel tracking script. These are then used to adjust users’ advertising profiles to target them more effectively.


URLs under the new system lack clearly defined parameter names, appearing instead as a long string of letters and numbers containing all address and tracking information in an encrypted format.

It is normally possible to remove certain parameters from URLs, remove the tracking element and increase link privacy. Some browsers even offer URL stripping as a built-in option for privacy-conscious users.

These include Firefox, which last month introduced a feature called “Query Parameter Stripping” that automatically removes tracking parameters from URLs to improve the privacy profile of its users. This can be activated in the browser’s configuration settings. The Brave browser also supports a URL removal feature. With the move to encrypt the URL parameters, Meta has greatly impacted the ability of such tools to effectively remove the tracking elements.

By connecting tracking elements to the URLs in such a way that it’s impossible to see where the web address ends and the parameters begin, Meta has found a way to almost inevitably track data for ads. This is a boost for its analytics business, as well as for the tech giant’s advertising partners whose interests include targeted data on as many users as possible.

Of 153 million usersFirefox represents a not insignificant group of users for Meta, who are just below the $115 billion in revenue last year largely through advertisements.

It Pro has reached out to Meta for comment.

© Dennis Publishing

Read more: Facebook Meta Tracking

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