Is Facebook Tracking Your Online Activity?
Sometimes I see ads on Facebook that are very closely related to websites I have recently visited. Even scarier, my sister said she saw my face on the CNN website, in a list of people who 'liked' an article. I do enjoy using Facebook, but are they really able to track every move I make on the Web? If so, what can I do to protect my privacy online?
Does Facebook Know What Sites I Visit?
It seems that almost every Web page you visit these days bears a Facebook "Like" button. Indeed, millions of Web sites worldwide have added this Facebook widget. One-third of the 1,000 most-visited Web sites use the Facebook "Like" widget, according to a study performed by The Wall Street Journal. But there's a lot not to like about what Facebook calls its "social plugin," from a privacy standpoint.
The WSJ found that the social plugin notifies Facebook that a person visited a site, even if the person does not click on the "Like" button. This information is linked to the person's Facebook profile. That's why some sites are able to tell you that a Facebook friend of yours "liked" the page you are now viewing, and even show you any comments about the page that your Facebook friend made.
For the social plugin to work, a person need only log in to Facebook once in the past month. It stops reporting which sites you visit only when you log out of your Facebook account.
Facebook is not alone in distributing this sort of widget. Google's Buzz service has one, and so does Twitter. Web site operators like the widgets because they build traffic by making it easy for visitors to share what they're viewing. Tracking users is just an "unavoidable side effect," they say.
Twitter says it does not do anything with the data its widget collects, and discards it "quickly". Google keeps browsing data for two weeks, while Facebook retains it for 90 days.
Protecting Your Privacy: Steps You Can Take
Privacy advocates are concerned about the Facebook widget which links browsing data to a Facebook member's profile. Your profile may well include your name and other identifying data, giving marketers the potential ability to build a complete dossier on your Internet activity.
To foil Facebook's social plugin, you can use three different methods:
- Log out of your Facebook account every time you finish a session there.
- Go to the Privacy Settings on your Facebook Account page. Click on "Apps, Games, and Websites" in the lower left corner. Disable the "Instant Personalization" option.
- A browser extension called Disconnect blocks Facebook and other tracking technologies for Firefox, Safari, and Google Chrome browsers. It was created by Brian Kennish, a former Google engineer.
Tracking users across the Web sites they visit is nothing new. Advertising networks have used cookies to track browsers for many years. But the rise of Facebook's social plugin and other "smart widgets" that can tie browsing data to a personal profile may represent a bigger threat to privacy.
Are you concerned about these potential privacy implications, or is it no big deal? Post your comment or question below...
This article was posted by Bob Rankin on 28 Jun 2011
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Article information: AskBobRankin -- Is Facebook Tracking Your Online Activity? (Posted: 28 Jun 2011)
Copyright © 2005 - Bob Rankin - All Rights Reserved