- Facebook cookies were accidentally tracking other sites users went to, even after they logged off. The cookies sent this information to Facebook.
- Facebook has fixed what it says was a malfunction in its software.
- Advice: Log off Facebook when done. Remove Facebook cookies. Use a different browser when you get on Facebook.
- Social media sites are figuring out what their role is in protecting user information and freedom of speech.
Love it, hate it, view it as a necessary evil. However you feel about social media sites, they are tracking you one way or another, cataloging your movements on their site -- and sometimes off it. Take Facebook.
Facebook was recently exposed as "inadvertently" tracking your web movements, even after you logged off its site. Australian blogger Nik Cubrilovic, like many alarmed by the upcoming Timeline changes to Facebook that will automatically populate your profile with items from your past or sites you're viewing, looked into how to disable this feature, which could "accidentally share a page or an event that you did not intend others to see." Cubrilovic writes another blogger's advice to combat this problem is to log off Facebook. But that isn't enough:
[...] logging out of Facebook only de-authorizes your browser from the web application, a number of cookies (including your account number) are still sent along to all requests to Facebook.com. 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.
Once this revelation went viral, Facebook announced its cookies were unintentionally tracking sending information to the company and that the problem has been resolved. Daily Mail has more:
[...] Facebook claims the cookies no longer send information while you are logged out of its site. If you are logged in to Facebook, the cookies will still send the information, and they remain on your computer unless you manually delete them.
They send Facebook your IP address -- the 'unique identifier' address of your PC -- and information on whether you have visited millions of websites: anything with a Facebook ‘like’ or ‘recommend’ button on it.
'We place cookies on the computer of the user,' said a Facebook spokesperson -- and admitted that some Facebook cookies send back the address of users' PCs and sites they had visited, even while logged out.
'Three of these cookies inadvertently included unique identifiers when the user had logged out of Facebook. We did not store these for logged out users. We could not have used this information.'
However, the site spokesperson said that the 'potential issue' had now been 'fixed' so that the cookies will no longer broadcast information: 'We fixed the cookies so they won't include unique information in the future when people log out.'
OnStar was also slammed by public outcry when it was revealed last week that even when the service was canceled it was still tracking previous subscribers. Yesterday, GM announced it was reversing this policy due to customer dissatisfaction.
Even after Facebook's fix, in a later blog post Cubrilovic writes that he still recommends "users clear cookies or use a separate browser" when using Facebook, in addition to logging out:
I believe Facebook when they describe what these cookies are used for, but that is not a reason to be complacent on privacy issues and to take initiative in remaining safe.
While social media continues to struggle with privacy issues every day, it is also figuring out what it should do to protect users information and right to free speech, as PC World states, "in the face of government authority." PC World, in one of three installments looking at rights with regard to use of technology, reports that how social media sites will censor you, share information or shut you down largely depends on which site it is:
If the U.S. government tries to censor or even shut off your access to a social network entirely (as British Prime Minister David Cameron almost did during the riots in England last month), you’ll want to know which networks have the best record of working to protect user rights.
PC World writes that Twitter, which is the only social media site so far that has published Guidelines for Law Enforcement, is the best at protecting users rights, while Google and Facebook are still figuring out where they stand with their "responsibility of supporting free speech."
One example of social media and technology companies beginning to figure out their roll in freedom of speech is reactions to the “Third Palestinian Intifada” -- a movement calling for a violent uprising of Palestinians against Israel. Facebook reportedly removed one of its pages calling for the uprising for becoming “hateful, violent vitriol.” The Blaze reported in June that it found this page was still posted on the site, although it does not appear to be active today. Apple also removed its “3rd intifada” iPhone application as it “violates the developer guidelines by being offensive to large groups of people.”