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. 

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