Facebook tracking deepens with the release of it’s Facebook Messenger application. The Facebook Messenger Windows application recently leaked, and the company has responded to the leak of its application by just releasing an official download. What some may see as an added benefit to the social networks users, is also yet another way for the company to maintain it’s Facebook tracking of users across the web.
Facebook Tracking and Privacy
Facebook tracks what you do online, even when you log out of Facebook. I reported back in September about how Facebook tracks you even when you’re not logged in. Facebook’s new Frictionless Sharing feature allows Facebook to track every website you visit; everything you do online… even when you’re not logged into Facebook. Nik Cubrilovic, who shows the code and describes how to replicate his findings states, “Even if you are logged out, Facebook still knows and can track every page you visit. The only solution is to delete every Facebook cookie in your browser, or to use a separate browser for Facebook interactions.”
USA Today‘s Byron Acohido was able to compile the most complete picture to date of how the social network keeps tabs on its 800 million users.
Here is what Acohido learned:
- Facebook tracking doesn’t track everybody the same way. It uses different methods for members who have signed in and are using their accounts, members who are logged-off and non-members.
- The first time you arrive at any Facebook.com page, the company inserts cookies in your browser. If you sign up for an account, it inserts two types of cookies. If you don’t set up an account, it only inserts one of the two types.
- These cookies record every time you visit another website that uses a Facebook Like button or other Facebook plugin — which work together with the cookies to note the time, date and website being visited. Unique characteristics that identify your computer are also recorded via Facebook Tracking.
- Facebook tracking keeps logs that record your past 90 days of activity. It deletes entries older than 90 days.
- If you are logged into a Facebook account, your name, email address, friends and all of the other data in your Facebook profile is also recorded via Facebook tracking.
The images below, compiled from USA Today’s article on Facebook tracking paints a clear picture of how and what their doing with the user data:
Facebook told USA Today that Facebook tracking uses data collected via cookies to help improve security and its plugins and that it has no plans to change how it uses this data. However, it’s also applied for a patent on a technology that includes a method that correlates ads and tracking data. So how innocuous IS Facebook tracking? How Facebook is handling the data it collects through cookies has raised a debate about whether consumers should be able to opt out of Facebook tracking by such methods.
Facebook tracking with Facebook Messenger
According to Facebook, Facebook Messenger is a trial application that lets you use Facebook without being on www.facebook.com. Using the new application you can chat and message friends on the site, see the latest status updates that would display in the ticker, and get notifications. The same privacy settings that you define on Facebook.com apply to Facebook messenger. The application provides both an Exit, and a Log Out. This is the important part that we’ll touch on in just a second.
Clearly, this is something that Facebook should have done long ago regardless of their intentions for Facebook tracking. It makes clear business sense. Many users leverage Facebook chat to communicate with friends. Using third party applications with Facebook chat is possible, that’s the only way I have ever enjoyed using it, but it’s hit or miss and not always functional. According to ZDNet, Facebook has hinted at a few additional features for the Windows flavor already: chatting with multiple friends, video calling, limiting chat availability, and editing settings.
For end users who are constantly on the site to receive updates this could be a very welcome application. Instead of requiring someone to have a tab open in a browser to receive chats, check status updates, etc the user would simply run the Facebook messenger application. However, using the Facebook Messenger application to receive those updates requires you to remain logged into the site. Being logged into the site of course allows for Facebook tracking for everything you do on the web. Facebook tracking allows the company to compile data on your surfing habits, and allows them to target ads by having ever more data on your personal life. Again, the application requires you stay logged in so that it can deliver chat and notification messages to your desktop; also ensuring that Facebook tracking is on at all times. This means you will stay logged into Facebook, and Facebook tracking will be active, even after you close your browser. To log out of Facebook, you’ll need to actually do so from Facebook Messenger for Windows.
Many might say that other companies do this as well. Clearly, other Internet giants like Google and Microsoft do this as well. The issue is the WAY Facebook implements Facebook tracking and further abuses users privacy. Last year Facebook updated it’s privacy policies. The issue was that by default users were automatically opted ‘IN’ to these new settings, which in most cases loosened restrictions on how widely personal data was shared. You of course had the option to opt out – but in practical terms, the menus to do so were often buried deep in a confusing maze of privacy settings. The constant changes to Facebook tracking raised so many eyebrows that the FTC began investigating Facebook back in December 2009, after the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), complained that Facebook had harmed its users by changing privacy settings in a way that encouraged them to reveal their names, photos, gender, and other personal information. Facebook tracking and abuses of privacy have a long history. The company is not very upfront, and doesn’t make it simple to understand of change your privacy settings. The new Facebook Timeline further confuses things.
FYI: For more information on how to take control of your Facebook Timeline check out my article on How To Take Control of your Timeline.
Remove old Facebook content: If you’re concerned over the new privacy implication of Facebook Timeline check out my article on how to Remove Facebook content from your Timeline.