No matter how hard Facebook tries to move away from it, the ghost of privacy issues refuses to let go of the world’s largest social media network. So much so that even the revamped News Feed announcement from last month has not helped matters.
Facebook has been in constant discussions with the US Federal Trade Commission over whether the website is violating privacy of its millions of users by making public too much personal information.
Facebook has now acknowledged that it has been able to create a log of the sites that each of its 800 million or so members has visited during the previous 90 days. The website also keeps a tab on which sites and web pages non-members visit, after they have visited a Facebook web page.
Facebook has admitted to snooping on non-users of the website
Facebook engineering director Arturo Bejar and spokesman Andrew Noyes have revealed to USA TODAY the extent of the company’s tracking of users’ browsing history. The employees disclosed that Facebook compiles tracking data in different ways for users of the site who are logged-in and for members who are logged-off, and a completely different way for non-members.
If you choose to sign up for a new account, Facebook inserts two tracking cookies in your browser: session cookie and browser cookie. If you choose not to become a member, and move on, you only get the browser cookie. From here on, every time you visit a webpage that has a Facebook Like button, or any other Facebook plug-in, the social networking website is intimated of the date, time and web address of the webpage you've clicked. Other information like IP address, screen resolution, operating system and browser version are also recorded.
If you are logged on to Facebook and surfing, the session cookie logs your activity. It also records your name, e-mail, friends and all profile-related data. If you are not logged on, or if you are a non-member, the browser cookie conducts the logging and reports a unique alphanumeric identifier, but no other personal information.
The company relies on tracking cookie technologies already being used by the likes of Google, Microsoft, Yahoo and others in the online advertising industry. The information gained through tracking their browsing history is used to tailor ads specifically for each Facebook user.
On its part, Facebook says it uses data gathered from tracking users and non-users only to boost the website’s security and improve its plug-ins functions. Bejar also acknowledged that Facebook could learn where specific members go on the web when they are logged off, but emphasised that the website does not do this. "We've said that we don't do it, and we couldn't do it without some form of consent and disclosure," he said.