Thursday, January 12, 2012

Is Facebook Tracking Its Users' Online Activity?

Two Congressmen have said that Facebook is dodging the question concerning whether or not the site tracks its member activities when online in order to provide advertising directly targeted at each individual user.

Edward Markey, Democratic representative for Massachusetts, and Joe Barton, Republican representative from Texas, are co-chairmen of the Congressional Privacy Caucus. They are currently stating that they are simply unsatisfied with the answers that Facebook has been providing to the questions that have been raised. In February there was a patent application that was filed by Facebook that suggested that the social media giant was tracking the websites that its users browse throughout the day. According to Facebook, this is not the case, and although the company has denied that it tracks its users, lawmakers are saying that Facebook seems to be “refusing” to explain why they filed the patent application.

“Facebook’s seems to be saying one thing and doing another,” Barton said in a statement. “In the company’s response, it talks a lot about how they don’t currently ‘track’ users online, but they just asked for a patent that would allow them to do just that. Why ask for something you don’t ever plan on using?”

In November Markey and Barton wrote to Facebook questioning the submission of the patent application. In response, Erin Egan, the chief privacy officer at Facebook, claimed that the company collected information about its members for “internal operations,” which included things like analysis, research and development.

“The practice of obtaining patents on inventions without launching products based on them is common in the technology industry, and no conclusions should be drawn about a company's practices, products or services from the patents it files, acquires or holds in its portfolio," Egan said in the Dec. 21 response letter, which was made public on Monday, January 9, 2011.

Markey and Barton have said that they still are not satisfied with the answers that Facebook has provided. They claim that the company is still not answering the questions concerning whether or not it is using third-party data tracking to target advertising at certain individuals. Markey said that he plans to question Facebook further and will also continue the investigation of why Facebook submitted the patent.

I think that this is a great idea because, according to the FCC, Facebook has "deceived customers by telling them they could keep their information on Facebook private, and then repeatedly allowing it to be shared and made public," and that is something that would probably concern many Facebook users.

Sources: PCMag - Facebook Evading Privacy Questions, Lawmakers Say and - Markey, Barton: Hard to Decipher Facebook’s Commitment to Consumer Privacy

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