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Potential FTC Probe Of Facebook Over Online Tracking

Jenny Chen |
September 29, 2011 | 1:53 p.m. PDT

Associate News Editor


 Niall Kennedy/Creative Commons)
Niall Kennedy/Creative Commons)
The Electronic Privacy Information Center released a letter on Thursday to the Federal Trade Commission recommending an investigation of Facebook out of concern regarding the social network’s privacy policies.

Recent reports that Facebook is able to track its users’ “post-log-out” Internet activity have sparked some debate that it has violated consumer privacy and its own privacy statements.

Australian technology blogger Nik Cubrilovic has published his findings about Facebook over the last year, including details that Facebook is able to gather data from logged out users on websites that feature the network’s “Like” application.

Facebook said this was for security and statistical purposes and a spokesman told Politico that the data was never stored and used.

Facebook places at least six cookies on a user’s browser during every visit to the site, according to EPIC’s letter. Various privacy groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union, Consumer Action and Consumer Watchdog, recommended the FTC investigate the social media’s recent changes. The groups take issue with new applications such as post log-out tracking, social apps that require a Facebook profile to use (i.e. Spotify), the real-time ticker and more.

The updated news feed and ticker allows users to see posts and interactions between absolute strangers, so long as there is one mutual friend who has commented or “liked” a post.

An updated version of Facebook to be released will contain a Timeline, which uses a computer algorithm to analyze and organize important events in each user’s life. While users are still able to hide their information, the default settings make it so that others can see their online activity more readily.

The letter asserts that the social network has “shown an increased willingness to cash in on the personal data of its users by constantly seeking new ways for advertisers to target the company’s broad and rapidly expanding user base.”

Reps. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Joe Barton (R-Texas) released a letter on Wednesday expressing concern with how the company utilizes “cookies,” which are small files that can store identification of a user and his/her preferences.

Markey and Barton, co-chairs of the Congressional Bi-Partisan Privacy Caucus, also indicated some anxiety over Facebook’s timeliness regarding this issue.

“Facebook should consider this issue a top priority and should allocate the resources necessary to safeguard consumers in an expedited fashion,” their letter reads.

The two congressmen said it was possible that Facebook violated Section 5 of the FTC Act meant to protect Americans from “unfair and deceptive acts or practices” in terms of commerce. 

Reach reporter Jenny Chen here.

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