Daily Mail Online
Thursday, 2 April 2015
Facebook 'Illegally' Tracks All Visitors To Its Site Even If They DON'T Have Accounts, Are Logged Off or Have Opted Out Says New Report
Facebook is 'illegally' tracking people’s internet searches across the web, even if they do not have an account with the social network. The technology company is using so-called internet ‘cookies’ – little pieces of tracking data - to collect information about people’s activity online, each time they visit a website which features a Facebook button.
Academics in Belgium claim that Mark Zuckerberg's social network is breaching EU privacy laws by placing the tracking cookies on computers without the user's consent to log their browsing data.
Facebook buttons are on more than 13 million ordinary websites, including those run by the government and the National Health Service, and allow users to do things such as ‘like’ a website, or ‘share’ the link on their own Facebook page.
A new report from the University of Leuven and a Brussels university claims that Facebook is tracking internet users in Europe for two years even if they have expressly opted out.
Facebook has more than 1.3 billion users but there are millions more visits from people who are not signed up.
The researchers say Facebook is putting tracking cookies on internet users' laptops, PCs and phones when the visit facebook.com - so they can target them with online advertising.
This includes anyone clicking on a fan page or other pages still available without a login, or even when they visit some of the 13million pages with a Facebook module on it and do not click on it.
The company first plants a tracking cookie on a user’s computer whenever they visit a website hosted on facebook.com, such as a page for a friend’s birthday party, a fan page for a celebrity, or for a brand or shop.
After that, any web page they visit which features a Facebook button will relay information back to the social network.
And the problem only becomes worse if they try to protect their privacy online, by ‘opting out’ of allowing web companies to track them.
Under EU privacy law websites must gain consent before using a cookie, with few exceptions, and websites must ask users to accept cookies when they visit for the first time.
Privacy campaigners have today accused Facebook of taking ‘staggering’ liberties by behaving in this way, and suggested that people can only really protecting themselves if they stop using the internet.
These little pieces of data send information back to the companies’ servers, allowing them to ‘remember’ the user. Often this can help them do simple things like ‘remembering’ the user, so that they don’t have to log in afresh every time they visit a particular website.
But cookies are also used to gather information about what websites people have visited, at which times of day, so that companies can target them with carefully tailored adverts.
This practice, known as ‘behavioural advertising ‘, means that users who research a particular car online, for example, would then see an advert for the same car when they visit an unrelated website.
Users can theoretically stop companies from tracking their information in this way by clicking an ‘ad choices’ button, featured on many websites. Once they click that button, people are invited to pick and choose which internet companies are allowed to track them, or just ban them altogether.
However, researchers said today that Facebook takes the request to ‘opt out’ of online tracking as a cue to plant an extra cookie on people’s computers instead.
Daily Mail Online
Daily Mail Online