When the Cookie Tracking issue on Facebook first exploded, users and non-users were aghast to find out that the social networking site could possibly be tracking our online activity. But Facebook brushed it off with an excuse saying that all information gathered through the cookies are “anonymized” and that they were only doing it for user protection.
Not trusting the company’s word on it and thinking that such a business practice could be unethical, the Federal Trade Commission launched an extensive investigation on the issue. An investigation that had Facebook admitting that it did, in fact, track users and non-users and that it keeps a running log of each user’s online activity for a 90 day period.
While logged in, Facebook’s “Session Cookie” is activated and all your data, your name, your IP address, operating system and browser information is sent to Facebook along with the date, time, and exact URL of the sites you visited (as long as those sites have a Facebook plug-in). This behavior is already quite invasive in itself, considering that most people don’t even know that it’s happening. But what’s even more invasive is the fact that when you log out, Facebook activates its “Browser Cookie”.
Each browser Cookie contains a unique alphanumeric number and, like the session cookie, also logs the user’s IP address, browser info, and the exact date and time that the user visits a particular URL. So, essentially, each time you visit a site with a Facebook plug-in, you’re sending Facebook data about your browsing habits. Non-users are assigned this browser cookie but not the session cookie.
These cookies, while invasive, also serve to detect fake Facebook accounts and to block them. It also helps prevent scams and phishing attacks. They also help improve the service overall for users. Facebook does not use the data they gather for targeted ads nor do they sell this info to the highest bidder.
Facebook Spokesperson Andrew Noyes said that they have no plans to change the way they use the tracking cookies. However, Representatives Ed Markey and Joe Barton claim that Facebook applied for a patent which could link the data they get from cookie tracking to advertisements.
However, Facebook Spokesman Barry Schnitt said that they apply for several different patents and that nothing should be inferred from it.
Considering Facebook’s history, some people are highly skeptical and believe that Facebook would indeed tie cookie tracking to ads if it could get away with it. However, the company is currently under heavy scrutiny from government agencies and privacy advocates, so they’re probably going to have a tough time pushing through with such a thing if ever they attempt to do so.