Heads up to all you Facebook haters out there regularly ripping on us self-absorbed "sheeple" trusting all our personal info to the Big Bro we call Facebook. If you’ve ever clicked on a Facebook profile or page — you know just to see what the big whoop is or whatever — Facebook follows you around the Internet too.
Just exactly how and why Facebook does this was laid out in an exclusive report in USA Today. And while the info gathered through interviews with Facebook representatives may or may not surprise you, the story rattled Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W. Va., who now wants Facebook to explain these details directly to Congress.
"Is this a violation to my privacy?" you may be asking yourself, and even if you’re not, Rockefeller, along with others in the U.S. government, continue to ask on your behalf. As Facebook nears a settlement after a two-year investigation by the Federal Trade Commission, Congress, along with the World Wide Web Consortium, are outlining privacy guidelines for all of cyberspace.
Here’s a few of the high points USA Today laid out about Facebook:
- The company compiles tracking data in different ways for members who have signed in and are using their accounts, for members who are logged-off and for non-members. The tracking process begins when you initially visit a Facebook.com page. If you choose to sign up for a new account, Facebook inserts two different types of tracking cookies in your browser, a "session cookie" and a "browser cookie." If you choose not to become a member, and move on, you only get the browser cookie.
- From this point on, each time you visit a third-party webpage that has a Facebook Like button, or other Facebook plug-in, the plug-in works in conjunction with the cookie to alert Facebook of the date, time and web address of the webpage you've clicked to. The unique characteristics of your PC and browser, such as your IP address, screen resolution, operating system and browser version, are also recorded.
- Facebook thus compiles a running log of all your webpage visits for 90 days, continually deleting entries for the oldest day and adding the newest to this log. If you are logged-on to your Facebook account and surfing the Web, your session cookie conducts this logging. The session cookie additionally records your name, e-mail address, friends and all data associated with your profile to Facebook. If you are logged-off, or if you are a non-member, the browser cookie conducts the logging; it additionally reports a unique alphanumeric identifier, but no personal information.
As explained above, session cookies record your profile info when you’re logged on, and browser cookies used when you log off don’t use your name — just an alphanumeric identifier. Indeed, a Facebook spokesperson confirmed to USA Today, the social network could still figure out who you are using your logged-off cookie info, but as the company line goes, it never ever would. Because that would be wrong.
"We've said that we don't do it, and we couldn't do it without some form of consent and disclosure," Facebook's engineering director Arturo Bejar, told USA Today.
Oh, and the few times that sort of thing has happened, that was an accident. You know, "software bugs."
"When we were made aware that certain cookies were sending more information to us than we had intended, we fixed our cookie management system," Facebook spokesperson Andrew Noyes told USA Today.
Feds don't seem to be buying it, and neither are the privacy advocates who spoke to USA Today.
"They have been confronted with the same issue now several times and every time they call it a bug," Arnold Roosendaal, a doctoral candidate at Tilburg University in the Netherlands, told USA Today in an email. He’s one of a couple of researchers who found evidence that Web pages with Facebook plug-ins track users more than Facebook previously admitted. "That's not really contributing to earning trust."
Still, with 800 million users and growing, any "trust" issues Facebook may have aren't driving anyone away, either.
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