Skip to main content

Facebook reveals how and what it tracks

facebook tracksIn an exclusive interview with USA Today, Facebook has revealed some new insights into its tracking practices. The social network is constantly besieged by privacy complaints, and often enough rightly so. But for the first time, it’s revealing very specific details about how it gets your data and what it’s doing with it.

The report gets into some of why it’s hard being Facebook and the different pressures the company is under. While it’s all very interesting, we’re more concerned about what exactly it does with user data and how it tracks people.

  • Different cookies for different folks. Facebook determines what type of tracking cookie to insert in your browser depending on your activity. If you register for an account, you get a session cookie and a browser cookie. If not, you only get a browser cookie. Tracking begins the first time you ever visit Facebook’s site.
  • You’re in the network. After this, any time you’re on a third-party site that has any sort of Facebook plugin (a Share or Like button, for instance), the cookie is alerting Facebook of the time and site address you’re on. This includes: “unique characteristics of your PC and browser, such as your IP address, screen resolution, operating system and browser version.” Facebook keeps track of all your webpage visits for 90 days, deleting the older entries and adding new ones as it goes.
  • Facebook can but won’t track you when you aren’t logged in. According to Facebook engineering director Arturo Bejar, the site has the ability to find out where you are going on the Internet when you aren’t even logged into Facebook. However, he says Facebook “makes it a point not to do this.”
  • Who else does this? This is all typical for online ad networks, including the likes of Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo. But just because it’s standard practice doesn’t mean it isn’t controversial. Furthermore, Facebook isn’t generally lumped in with these companies.

But maybe it should be. Is it time consumers start actually thinking about Facebook as part of the Internet advertising industry? The company’s candidness in the interview is commendable, but we’d be prepared for some significant backlash. 

Editors' Recommendations

Molly McHugh
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Before coming to Digital Trends, Molly worked as a freelance writer, occasional photographer, and general technical lackey…
How to unblock someone on Facebook
Woman using Sign Easy on laptop to sign documents.

Maybe you were a little too hasty blocking that one person on Facebook, or maybe you just want to do a little spying to see what they’re up to. Either way, unblocking a person on Facebook is pretty easy. You can do it either on your mobile phone or on the website. Here’s how to unblock someone on Facebook when you have a change of heart.

Read more
How to download a video from Facebook
Woman looking at videos on Facebook

Though you can save Facebook posts to watch later, you might want to download videos you find on your Facebook feed. Whether it’s a how-to video you want to save for when you’re working on a project or a funny video you want to share with friends, you can download Facebook videos from your feed to your device in just a few simple steps. Here's how to download a video from Facebook.

Read more
Facebook reveals the cause of Monday’s global outage
The Facebook home page on a screen.

Facebook has revealed the cause of one of the worst service outages ever to hit the social networking site.

The downtime occurred on Monday, October 4, and affected billions of users globally for around six hours. It also knocked out other Facebook-owned services such as Messenger, Instagram, and WhatsApp.

Read more