Legislators Ask Facebook About Tracking Users Outside Its Walls

Lora Bentley

I wonder if Facebook has a form letter it sends to lawmakers in response to questions about privacy concerns. As many times as the social networking giant has responded to congressional inquiries, I wouldn't be surprised. But if so, it's not working.


CNET News reported Wednesday Bipartisan Congressional Privacy Caucus co-chairs Reps. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) and Joe Barton (R-Texas) want to know why Facebook tracks the online movements of its users even after they leave the site. In their letter, the legislators said:

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When users log out of Facebook, they are under the expectation that Facebook is no longer monitoring their activities. We believe this impression should be the reality. Facebook users should not be tracked without their permission.

For its part, Facebook says simply that it does not store information that should not be stored and there has been no privacy breach.


The now infamous "Like" button, which has found a home on more than 900,000 websites, appears to be the culprit here. And websites that allow users to log into commenting or other networking platforms using their Facebook credentials don't help. (Remember all the ruckus about Facebook Connect a few years ago? Guess what folks ... It's back.)


I see the legislators' point, and I agree that users should not be tracked without their permission. I've harped on that very issue for years, after all. If Facebook users were being tracked outside of Facebook and apart from any action of the users, that would be a little too "Big Brother" for me, too, and I'd be on my soapbox again.


But in this case, users choose to click a button that is clearly Facebook-branded and the fact that they clicked that button shows up on their Facebook feeds. Or, users choose to log into an outside website's social features with their Facebook usernames and passwords, in a dialog box that looks uncannily similar to the Facebook login screen. If they're not aware those activities are connected to - and can be tracked by - Facebook, they should be.


If anything, Facebook should be more intentional in educating its users about the "Like" and "Connect" features. But for once I'm not sure it warrants a hearing on the Hill.

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