Facebook May Still Be Tracking You, Advocate Says
by Leslie Meredith, TechNewsDaily Senior Writer
April 26 2012 03:19 PM ET
CREDIT: Lightspring | Shutterstock
Updated May 18, 4PM ET
A $15 billion lawsuit against Facebook has been filed in a San Jose court that claims the now-publicly-traded company violated the privacy rights of its members. The class action suit combines 21 previous complaints that Facebook tracked members' visits to other websites even when they were logged out of the social networking service. First reported by Bloomberg, the complaint says that Facebook violated the U.S. Wiretap Act, which allows for statutory damages of $100 per violation per day, up to $10,000 — whichever is greater — per Facebook user. The grand total accounts for U.S. members from May 2010 through September 2011, but attorneys involved in the suit said they are seeking to add European members as well.
Facebook last month updated its so-called Statement of Rights and Responsibilities (aka terms of service) after a round of comments from its users. And now it's asking for more feedback by inviting more than 2,000 of its most vocal critics for input. If there are more than 7,000 "substantive" comments around a particular issue, Facebook will offer users a chance to vote on alternatives.
A draft of the terms is posted under "Documents" on the Facebook Site Governance page. Critics are most concerned about what's not included — provisions against Facebook tracking you even when you are logged out.
David Jacobs, at the Electronic Privacy Information Center, who represents consumers' interests before government bodies, told TechNewsDaily that he's still not convinced that Facebook's policy is comprehensive.
In the past, Facebook has tracked users' visits to other websites — even when they were logged out of Facebook — by installing cookies (tiny files used to serve up personalized ads). Facebook claims it has stopped doing that, Jacobs said, but he is not so sure.
Last November, Facebook settled a case with the Federal Trade Commission over privacy complaints and agreed to make changes, including letting users block friends' apps from accessing their profile information. The agreement didn't cover secretly tracking logged-out users.
"How complete that fix was remains unclear," Jacobs said. "Personally identifiable information like user names and ID numbers may still be sent to Facebook."
To play it safe, Jacobs offered a solution: Use two browsers. One would be for Facebook and the second for everything else. Because browsers don't share information, your Web surfing would remain outside Facebook's reach. As far as Facebook is concerned, you visit only its site.
You have a few options. In addition to Internet Explorer, which comes with PCs, and Safari, which is on Macs, you can download Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox or Opera Software's eponymous browser.
"It may be a little inconvenient," Jacobs said. But that's the price of privacy.