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As Facebook pushes a replacement for its increasingly weak tracker, advertisers weigh privacy risk and reward



As Facebook pushes a replacement for its increasingly weak tracker, advertisers weigh privacy risk and reward

Facebook’s tracking pixel is a ubiquitous-yet-invisible presence on sites across the web. But Facebook wants advertisers to trade it in for a newer model of monitoring people’s online behavior and connecting it with the ads running on its platform.

Facebook’s two-year-old server-side conversion tracking method — known as Conversions API or CAPI — aims to give advertisers a means of getting around tracking obstacles. While it can’t entirely circumvent new tracking barriers set up by Apple, CAPI is helping advertisers fill in some tracking gaps and delivering more refined data for measuring and optimizing ads, which helps them continue to do some of the retargeted advertising they’re accustomed to doing on Instagram or Facebook.

As the pieces of the tracking data puzzle disappear, server-side tracking is helping Facebook “get parts of the puzzle back together,” said Natasha Blumenkron, director of paid social at Tinuiti, an agency that specializes in marketing on Facebook and other big tech platforms. 

In addition to helping advertisers view signs of ad performance otherwise obscured by Apple devices and browser-based ad blockers, Facebook’s updated conversion tracking method also gives them more detailed information than Facebook’s pixel. “We’re actually getting better data than we were getting from the pixel,” from the newer tracking method, said Ceilidh MacLeod, co-founder of digital consultancy Algae. While she is limited in the types of interactions she can track with the pixel, such as whether someone made a purchase, CAPI lets her “get super granular” by picking up on more specific actions such as whether someone clicked on a page or downloaded something, she said.

She said many of the small businesses she handles Facebook ads for, including her own healthcare and CBD brand called OEM, are just starting to test the technology in the hopes it improves their ability to see whether people bought something after being served an ad on Facebook.

But as Facebook touts new “Privacy Enhancing Technologies” — in part to convince government regulators, privacy watchdogs and everyday people that it respects data privacy — CAPI moves privacy decisions away from people and the browsers they control to brands and website publishers behind-the-scenes. Not only does the tracking tool need actual identifiable data like emails and phone numbers sent to Facebook in order to work — data some advertisers never shared with the company before — the process entices advertisers to share with Facebook what in some cases is a wider array of data than they may have in the past: on people’s interactions in online and e-commerce environments as well as offline settings like retail stores and customer call centers. 

Server-side conversion tracking is shifting who is making those consent-driven decisions from the user in the browser to the publisher on the back end,” said Drew Lanenga, chief data scientist at Lytics, a customer data platform that allows advertiser clients to set up Facebook’s CAPI system. “The consumer has less control. And as technology puts people in less control, the responsibility falls onto brands,” he said.

Facebook has offered CAPI to all advertisers since September 2019 as a supplement to — and eventual replacement for — its tracking pixel. Brand advertisers and agency execs Digiday spoke to for this story said Facebook is pushing advertisers to get on board with the server-side tracking tech, selling it as the shiny, new measurement data hot rod they ought to be driving. And some advertisers are responding. Over the last six months, “our analytics engineering team, multiple times per week are getting requests to help our clients with [Facebook] CAPI implementations,” said Andrew Richardson, svp analytics and marketing science at Tinuiti. 

“We’re evolving our products to provide people with more visibility into and control over how their data is used for ads. This supports our efforts to collaborate with the industry on standards and to develop privacy-enhancing technologies, which will enable ad personalization while minimizing the amount of personal information we process,” a Facebook spokesperson told Digiday.

Replacing pieces in the ad measurement puzzle

Other ad tech firms such as Mixpanel, TransUnion’s Signal and Twilio Segment have introduced server-side conversion tracking products over the last few years and Google, in recent months, has more gradually rolled out some server-side conversion tracking capabilities. However, Facebook has a powerful influence on millions of advertiser choices, so the fact that, for nearly two years, the company has steered advertisers in the direction of server-side tracking that circumvents the browser has a big impact, said Tinuiti’s Richardson. “What is driving a lot of the eyes on server-side tracking is because of Facebook,” he said.

In general as cross-app tracking, the Facebook pixel and third-party cookies lose efficacy, “there is that break in the information loop for Facebook, which is why they are making a lot of noise” about using CAPI, said Farhad Divecha, founder of U.K.-based digital marketing agency Accuracast.

While many advertisers have yet to implement server-side conversion tracking, those that have said they are detecting conversions they may have missed as a result of browser-based tracker deprecation. And, while Facebook’s CAPI doesn’t let advertisers completely get over walls Apple users can erect to evade trackers, the company does have a means of seeing around them. According to a Facebook spokesperson, if a Facebook or Instagram user opts out of tracking when using an Apple device, Facebook could use data gleaned through its server-side process about that user’s off-Facebook activity to target personalized ads to them if it’s been aggregated or de-identified first.

Switching to the server-side process “is critical for performance-based advertising on Facebook,” because it replaces how Facebook has been able to track via web browsers through its pixel, said T.K. Stohlman, president of Autoscale.ai, which uses CAPI for Facebook ads the company runs to promote Fanprint, a collegiate sports apparel brand that customizes products for niche groups like nurses who are Kansas Jayhawks fans.

Getting set up to use CAPI requires varying levels of technical work depending on whether companies want to enable it in their Facebook-integrated Shopify store, through a data platform service such as Lytics or Segment or to connect Facebook’s API to servers a company owns or manages, which may be more of an I.T. department burden. Either way, implementing the tracking process is “well worth doing,” said James Parker, chief solutions officer of data and planning at digital agency Jellyfish, noting that the agency’s clients that have set it up have right away spotted as many as 30% more conversions attributed to ads on Facebook show up as a result. 

Opening the data floodgates

The method allows advertisers to track when exposure to a Facebook ad led someone to look at a product page, add a product to an online shopping cart, download a report, download a mobile app, open an email, use a chatbot or even when it prompted them to do things in real life like make a purchase at a physical store or show interest in a service while talking to a customer rep on the phone. If fully tapped, the server-side process opens the Facebook platform to a variety of sources that feed data directly to Facebook’s servers via the Conversions API from servers that host an advertiser’s or retailer’s site or the platforms they use to track offline actions.

In turn, that data informs future ad targeting and optimization, enabling advertisers to continue doing what they’ve come to love Facebook for — retarget ads to people featuring a product they looked at — and allowing Facebook to build new audiences for advertisers to target people who are likely to have interest in those products.

“You don’t have to open those floodgates, though” said Richardson,” who said advertisers can choose solely to send Facebook email addresses or phone numbers to detect conversions. “The thing about CAPI is you as the brand get to choose what you put into it,” he said.

Facebook stresses that no data is being shared through CAPI that advertisers couldn’t share with the company before through its other tools such as its Offline Conversion API or App Events API. But CAPI requires a personally-identifiable data point like an email address, phone number or IP address in order to match the ad exposure to conversion events. And, while advertisers have been able to share that sort of personally identifiable data through Facebook’s pixel, the browser-based tech does not need that information to confirm a conversion. 

“In my experience, advertisers typically don’t send names, emails or phone numbers through the pixel,” said Ty Martin, founder of Facebook ad consultancy Audience Kitchen.

Server-side tracking keeps certain data out of the browser, especially sensitive data that advertisers want to make sure is secure. And Facebook’s developer specifications for CAPI say that hashing, which protects data privacy during transfer from server to server, is “needed” when passing customer information including emails, phone number, birthdate, names, address or location information and gender. 

Balancing risks of a ‘boundary crossed’

But hashing won’t be enough to convince some heavily regulated brands to switch, said Marilois Snowman, founder and chief executive architect of media tech consultancy Mediastruction. “A lot of the brands in healthcare and finance are going to be very wary of server-side conversion tracking due to regulatory and compliance constraints, and logistically it’s a challenge because of the requirements of their third-party processors who manage conversions outside of the brands’ owned web assets.”

While Tinuiti’s clients have shown increased interest in CAPI in recent months, Richardson said the majority of them are unwilling to take the risk of over-sharing with the platforms including Facebook. “They are thinking about the privacy risks of giving too much data to the platforms,” he said.

Facebook requires advertisers sharing people’s personal data with the platform to provide notice on pages using its trackers and links to opt out. However, advertisers aren’t going out of their way to notify people specifically about data sharing with Facebook through CAPI, according to Jellyfish’s Parker. Instead advertisers rely on existing privacy policies and terms and conditions that note that people’s personal information might be shared with marketing partners, he said. Facebook users who want to opt out from data sharing via CAPI or other measurement tools can disable it through a multi-step process in their Facebook settings

Facebook “has every intention to find ways to allow their customers to keep running ads,” said Algae’s MacLeod. But, with tools like server-side conversion tracking, “There could be a boundary crossed there, and we need to figure out how to properly monitor that and find the right balance,” she said, adding, “I have to also consider [the people] on the other end of the ads, so there’s a whole other side of this.”

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The best Nintendo Switch shooter games



The best Nintendo Switch shooter games

Nintendo was never known for creating consoles that were home to some of the best shooters, but the company has turned that around with Switch games — offering a robust lineup of shooting games in 2D, 3D, first-person, and third-person, with a little something for everyone. You’ll find indie shooters on the system, some from AAA third parties, and even one from Nintendo itself. While the Switch doesn’t stand toe to toe with the PC, Xbox One, or PS4 shooter games, it has enough variety to make it a solid choice when playing games of that genre.

In this list, we’ll go through the best shooters on the platform — while highlighting what makes them so great. Let’s hope the Nintendo Switch keeps the momentum going as a great system for shooters for years to come.

Below are the best shooter games on the Nintendo Switch, including some free FPS games worth playing.


Id Software and Bethesda surprised just about everyone when 2016’s Doom reboot managed to not only be worthy of the series’ name, but was miles better than we assumed it would be. The smooth action and brutal Glory Kills system were impressive on PC, Xbox One, and PS4, but the Nintendo Switch port managed to make the kill perfectly playable on a handheld as well. Despite lower resolutions and some muddy textures, Doom runs like a dream on Switch. Its sequel, Doom Eternal, is available on Switch as well, though it’s largely regarded as a downgrade from the first entry.

Read our full Doom review

Metroid Dread

Samus holding cube in Metroid Dread.

If you’re looking for one of the best Metroidvania games on Switch, this is it. Metroid Dread picks up where Fusion left off narratively, but it’s a much more mechanically modern title comparatively. As a shooter, it has the vibe of an old-school 2D Metroid game with some difficult fights. You get access to weapon upgrades, suite upgrades, and a whole suite of abilities to play around with. Dread also ups the series’ horror tendencies as Samus must escape from the robotic E.M.M.I., which stalk her like Alien‘s xenomorphs. It all comes together to form one of the scariest, toughest, and most stylish games Nintendo has made in a very long time. Take a look at our Metroid Dread beginner’s guide to get started.

Read our full Metroid Dread review

Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus

Bethesda’s other major first-person shooter franchise went in a very different direction with the 2014 soft-reboot, Wolfenstein: The New Order, and its sequel Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus, which is available in full on Nintendo Switch. Set primarily in an alternate-history United States taken over by Nazi Germany, the game’s story sees legendary hero BJ Blazkowicz slaughter fascists in even more entertaining ways and even offers information on his childhood and parents. It’s backed up by excellent first-person shooting gameplay with plenty of challenge, too, letting you play as either a one-man wrecking crew or as a stealthier agent who takes out his enemies from a distance. If you’re a fan of Doom and Doom Eternal, you might like Wolfenstein II. Check out more Bethesda games if you want to go even further.

Read our full Wolfenstein II review


It took a few years, but Overwatch finally released for Nintendo Switch in 2019, and despite some lower-resolution textures and a few loading issues, it’s a perfectly fine way to play the online shooter. The same characters, maps, and modes are intact, and with a Wi-Fi connection when you’re out and about, it’s the perfect way to keep playing and leveling up your account. The game’s blend of tactical team-based objective gameplay with all-out action never gets old, and the continued release of new characters and events has kept players on other platforms coming back for years. There are few games that have been able to pull that off, even as a mountain of imitators have attempted to steal Blizzard’s thunder. Be on the lookout for Overwatch 2 if you like this one.

Read our full Overwatch review


Few shooter games are as creative as Superhot, and even fewer are able to execute on their ideas as well. Set in a cyberpunk-infused world with a user-interface similar to The Matrix, you battle against faceless enemies and are killed instantly if you take one hit. The twist in Superhot, however, is that time only moves when you move, so you can plan every step and attack in advance to take down your targets efficiently. It’s a simple gimmick that manages to be extremely effective, and the story that unfolds in between each stage had us invested and frequently laughing from beginning to the very end. It’s definitely one of the coolest Nintendo Switch games out there.


A first-person shooter that plays as an exaggerated parody of other first-person shooters, People Can Fly’s Bulletstorm didn’t make much of a splash when it initially released on last-generation consoles. That’s a shame, because the game’s irreverence, ridiculous story, and Skillshot system make it a breath of fresh air compared to all the gray-and-brown military shooters that have become so popular. The Switch version even includes the option to play as Duke Nukem for the entire game, if you’re into that, and you’ll definitely be saying the game’s dumb one-liners after you stop playing.


Even 13 years after its original release, BioShock remains one of the best first-person shooters of all time — and thankfully, we can now play it on the go on Nintendo Switch. Its visual style is designed in such a way that it still looks great and will likely remain timeless. The underwater city of Rapture oozes with environmental storytelling, and its inhabitants are just as creepy as ever. We arguably don’t get enough good survival horror games (or many at all), but BioShock is up there with the greats like Resident Evil and Dead Space. When you’re finished with the first one, you can play its follow-ups, BioShock 2 and BioShock: Infinite, as part of the collection on Switch.

Borderlands 2

We also don’t get enough shooter RPGs, but thankfully, the fan-favorite Borderlands 2 is available on Switch. It sends you on an insane quest for loot, with over-the-top weapons and a gameplay loop that will likely sink its teeth into you. It’s important for a game to feel good to play, and Borderlands 2 absolutely hits it out of the park in that department. Unlike a lot of shooters that focus on dark and realistic tones, Borderlands always has emphasized silly themes and sticks out due to its beautiful cel-shaded visuals. You can play the original Borderlands, The Pre-Sequel, and Borderlands 2, along with all of their DLC, on Nintendo Switch. Borderlands 2 is easily one of the best FPS games of all time and it’s now available on Switch!

Splatoon 2

The only game developed by Nintendo itself on this list, Splatoon 2, is exactly what a Splatoon sequel needed to be: more Splatoon. The multiplayer gameplay remains fast-paced and intense as you destroy your enemies with ink blasters while also trying to cover the map in as much ink as possible, and the game’s multiplayer progression system and customization options keep you engaged despite matches playing out similarly each time. It also offers another creative and platforming-filled campaign mode filled with plenty of fish puns, as well as a new cooperative Salmon Run mode that will put your abilities to the test. We also have Splatoon 3 to look forward to, which is planned to launch in 2022!

Read our full Splatoon 2 review


Fortnite Chapter 2

The biggest video game in the world can be played in your living room or while you’re sitting on the toilet. Fortnite: Battle Royale took the basic formula established in titles like The Culling and PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds and mixed in a structure-building element that lets you turn any location into a defendable fortress. Its goofy art style and continuous updates have changed the game drastically over time, and as a cross-play game, it is supported across all systems. This means a Switch player can enjoy the battle royale game with his friends on Xbox, PS4, or even their mobile phone, so no one has to ever play by themselves again. As one of the best free games on Switch, it also comes at no cost to you.

Read our full Fortnite review

The Outer Worlds

The Outer Worlds Ellie

Fans of the Fallout series will be right at home, as The Outer Worlds gives players dozens the choices to make, weapons to wield, and locations to explore, all while navigating a satirical storyline. A few concessions had to be made due to technical limitations, and the graphics leave a bit to be desired, but anyone looking for an FPS fix will be happy this gem found a home on the Switch. You can also keep an eye out for The Outer Worlds 2 which will come out at some point in the future.

Read our full The Outer Worlds review for Nintendo Switch


You can’t play Destiny 2 on Nintendo Switch, but you can play a game that millions of players seem to prefer: Warframe. The free-to-play science-fiction game blends elements of shooters and third-person action together, with a ton of content and customization options. It’s a free-to-play game done well, never feeling like it’s asking for your money before you can do well, and developer Digital Extremes even includes enormous ships you can fly through space to take on roaming enemies. You have very little to lose by trying it out, except the time you’ll spend playing it if it manages to get its hooks in you — especially with it being a free game.

Resident Evil 4

Sure, Resident Evil 4 often is categorized as a survival horror game, but c’mon — it’s a shooter, too. Many consider it to be the best Resident Evil game in the series, and while we like to lean more toward the newer entries like Resident Evil 7 and the recent remakes, Resident Evil 4 is a must-play. It masterfully treads the line between a shooter and horror game, with tons of campy characters and scary monsters to fall in love with. This Switch game especially satisfying to acquire new upgrades to make the main character, Leon Kennedy, even stronger. Even if this game has some outdated things like the depiction of its damsel in distress, Ashley, there’s still a lot to love in RE4. Word on the street is that it will be getting a remake treatment, due out in the next few years, so survival horror fans might have that to look forward to.

The Binding of Isaac: Afterbirth+

What a bizarre and wild game. The Binding of Isaac is a rougelike that we’re honestly surprised is even available on the Nintendo Switch, due to its heavy religious themes. It just goes to show how Nintendo — and video games as a whole — have evolved over time. In this Nintendo Switch game, you play as a naked baby named Isaac, who shoots horrifying enemies with his tears (no, we aren’t joking). It plays a lot like a dungeon crawler but features procedurally generated levels, in which no two runs are the same. But this also feels like a horror game at times. Random drops will help (or hurt) your character as he climbs through each floor in this top-down shooter. It’s grotesque, difficult, and funny — and there isn’t anything else like it.


One of the best modern shoot-‘em-up and bullet hell games available on any platform, Switch included, Ikaruga is absolutely perfect for the platform. The game only makes use of a few buttons, with your ship able to fire projectiles and switch its polarity to deal damage against certain enemies while absorbing attacks from others. The game served as the main source of inspiration for Nier: Automata, and while we wait for that game to finally release on the console, you can get a taste of its aesthetic and intensity here. Just don’t get too upset if you find yourself struggling to make it more than a few minutes in without dying.


First released in 2011 as Jamestown: Legend of the Lost Colony, the alternate-history vertical shooter came to Switch in 2019 as Jamestown+. The game is set on Mars hundreds of years in the past and sees colonizing forces battling it out with an array of advanced weaponry. It has the classic intense feedback you want from a vertical shooter, and it uses a gold-collecting system to power special “Vaunt” abilities that give you momentary shielding and increased damage. Jamestown+ is so much more than meets the eye, and its soundtrack is a bizarre blend of golden gaming age nostalgia and frontier-era music that we’ve never heard before.

Nuclear Throne

Rogue-like games and shooters don’t usually mix, but no one told that to Vlambeer. The developer’s take on the top-down shooter lets you augment yourself with abilities via the nuclear wasteland, and backs it up with blistering shooting action as you make your way to the titular Nuclear Throne. You have tons of different weapons and explosives to choose from as you fight your way to your goal, and you’ll need to learn just a little bit more on each run if you want to ever be successful. Even just one slip-up can leave you vulnerable to shot from the game’s bizarre enemies, so never take your safety for granted.


Initially only available on Xbox One and PC, Cuphead now is an indie game on Nintendo Switch, and we’re so glad it is. The 2D shooter plays like a classic run-and-gun game mixed with a platformer, and its art style is reminiscent of classic Disney animated films like Steamboat Willie. Don’t let the cute exterior fool you, however, as it’s also one of the hardest games available on Switch. The Cuphead bosses show you no mercy, particularly as you approach the ending, and it will take every ounce of your abilities to make it to the final boss unscathed.

Rolling Gunner

Rolling Gunner is a traditional horizontal shooting game exclusive to Nintendo Switch, and it will appeal to fans of Thunder Cross and Gradius. It’s a challenging game — you’ll need to avoid bullets while attacking enemy ships — but you can customize your difficulty setting if need be. It features a marriage of modern and retro visual styles, with both forefront and hidden enemies. It’s not exactly revolutionary, but it builds on the classic shooter games of the 1990s and early 2000s.

Blazing Chrome

Blazing Chrome blasting enemies

This list doesn’t include Contra: Rogue Corps, even if it’s available on Nintendo Switch. It’s a low-quality Contra game for both consoles and arcade shooters. As an alternative, we suggest Blazing Chrome, which is similar to Contra III and Contra: Hard Corps in all the best ways. You’ll get challenging bosses and enemies and tons of weapon choices, but the best part about Blazing Chrome is its ample checkpoint and continue system. You won’t need to waste time starting from scratch if you’re having trouble with one section.

Sine Mora EX

Similar to Ikaruga, Sine Mora EX puts a fun variation on a standard aerial arcade shooter game by linking your health with the time limit. If your enemies hit you, you won’t instantly die, but your time available to finish the level will decrease. This feature means you don’t have any room for mistakes, and you’ll need to beat the bosses as fast as you can if you want time to finish your objective. The game is set against a dark apocalyptic backdrop with voice acting but also offers a separate arcade mode if you’re purely focused on the shooting. 

Turok: Dinosaur Hunter


Functioning as an enhanced port of the 1997 classic, Turok: Dinosaur Hunter is a first-person shooter that — as its name suggests — pits you against deadly dinosaurs. In 1997, 3D worlds were still a novel idea, and this is one of the games that brought 3D to the forefront. In this Nintendo Switch game, you’ll use a large arsenal of weapons (including a grenade launcher, Plasma Pulse Rifel, the Atomic Fusion Cannon, and more) to take out a slew of foes such as the Laser-Guided T-Rex. Expect to navigate through traps and puzzles along the way, as you progress towards defeating the evil overlord known as The Campaigner.

Apex Legends


In terms of value, it doesn’t get much better than Apex Legends, a free-to-play multiplayer Battle Royale shooter that recently launched for Nintendo Switch. This FPS game has been available on other platforms since 2019, but is now playable on the Switch, with cross-play functionality as well. Apex Legends features a slew of characters to choose from, each with their own unique abilities and personalities. This offers a twist on the familiar battle royale formula, giving it elements of hero shooter as well. And thanks to Respawn Entertainments’ continued support, Apex Legends players have no shortage of content to enjoy, with more planned for the future.

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The 60 best shows on Amazon Prime Video right now



The 60 best shows on Amazon Prime Video right now

Amazon Prime Video has tons of great content you can watch, from full legacy series to first seasons and exciting new originals. There’s something new all the time, but the catch is that you need to filter through to find what’s available with a base Amazon Prime subscription and what requires a secondary subscription. We’re making that process easy for you with this curated list of the best shows you can watch on Amazon Prime Video right now with only a base Prime subscription. From horrors and thrillers just in time for Halloween to romantic comedies, dramas, docuseries, sitcoms, and more, there’s something for everyone.

Looking for something else? We’ve also rounded up the best shows on Netflix, the best movies on Hulu, the best movies on Amazon Prime Video, and the best movies on Disney+.

Digital Trends Streaming Roundup

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The 91 best movies on HBO Max right now



The 91 best movies on HBO Max right now

If the streaming era is a war between Hollywood superpowers, then HBO Max is well-armed with its greatest asset: Movies! Warner Bros. is one of the most storied film studios in the history of cinema, and that history has given HBO Max access to many of the best films from the last 100 years. HBO Max also has a number of flicks from other studios to further boost its library, as well as a growing number of Max originals to keep fans knee-deep in options. If anything, there’s almost too much to watch. We can make it a lot easier for you because we’ve already done the work. Just check out our updated list of the best movies on HBO Max right now.

Looking for more suggestions? We also have guides to the best movies on Netflix, the best movies on Hulu, the best movies on Amazon Prime Video, and the best movies on Disney+.

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