December 16th, 2011
The social network Facebook admits that it uses file tracers, even for people who are disconnected from their platforms, and will not change their habits.
With the help of Facebook engineer Arturo Bejar, an article entitled “Facebook tracking is under scrutiny” on the USA Today website reveals details of how members are tracked on the social network, whether connected or not, and how their stored data is used. Visitors who do not have accounts on Facebook are also involved. The social network uses tracking codes, also known as cookies, which are placed on the user’s computer during a website visit. Widespread, they are useful to sites and online services to see if a user is logged-in, or if they have already visited the website. A good example being when you shop on Amazon, the products you were shopping for last week are staring you straight in the face this week.
Different cookies for members and visitors
Facebook uses two types of cookies: one for members and one for non-members of the social media platform.
For members with an account, Facebook uses a session cookie to keep the user connected as long as the same browser is used. The cookie stores and compiles data such as name, email address, friends’ lists and preferences. It also stores unique elements such as the IP address and technical information on the configuration of your computer and browser. Finally, it logs the page views that contain a Facebook plugin such as the “Like” button with time and date and internet address (URL).
Non-members who are sent a link to a Facebook page, as well as members disconnected from their accounts, are also tracked. In these cases, a browser cookie replaces the session cookie. A unique identifier replaces the personal data such as name and Facebook data. Although no longer associated with the account of the social network, the rest of the information collected does not change. The technical information is retrieved from the computer (browser, operating system, IP address) as well as the date and address of visited web pages, particularly if they contain one of the many Facebook plugins: “Like” button, shares, comments, activities, etc.
Facebook has no plans to stop collecting this information and this stance is further supported by its representative Andrew Noyes. He explains that Google, Microsoft and other major Internet behemoths already use this method for targeted advertising. The social network with 800 million members said they use different data for advertising to members connected in Facebook.
For ordinary visitors, the tracking is helping to improve security and the user experience. According to Facebook’s spokesman, the connection logs are used to identify fake accounts and block misuse. The collected data is used to understand and improve the use of plugins.
The choice to the user?
Cookies in themselves are not dangerous files from a privacy perspective. And, it is possible to filter or block cookies for individual websites or services, but it also eliminates handling the practical side of this file tracer. But whatever the purpose, a visitor or user of a service should be able to choose whether to accept the tracking of their browsing activity.
In 2012, the W3C standards body will set the standard for DNT “Do Not Track”. It will allow the user to indicate whether he wishes his surfing habits to be used. Facebook, as well as Google, Microsoft and other major internet players took part in the discussions.
At Banner, user privacy is paramount. We constantly monitor legislation to integrate the latest directives into our campaigns and we use a carefully selected suite of online marketing tools that enable us to protect the user’s rights.
Interested in finding out more? Why not read our white paper: ‘Here comes the cookie monster – making sense of EU Data Protection Legal Framework’