Despite the settlement that the FTC and Facebook reached regarding user privacy, Congressmen Joe Barton and Edward Markey are still far from satisfied with how Facebook conducts its business. They claim that Facebook is trying to evade some important privacy questions – particularly those concerning a questionable patent they filed last February. The patent suggests that they want to track users and use the information gathered for targeted ads.
The congressmen confronted Facebook about the patent, and unsurprisingly, Facebook denied the allegations of any wrongdoing. Facebook claims that it doesn’t track its users and doesn’t plan to use any information obtained on user browsing activities for the purpose of targeting ads. The only thing that they’re using the data obtained in the patent for is to improve their internal workings, and nothing else. They claim that they merely applied for the patent to protect their intellectual property and have no plans on applying them.
However, the congressmen believe that the company is saying one thing but doing another. Barton said, “In the company’s response, it talks a lot about how they don’t currently track users online, but they just asked for a patent that would allow them to do just that. Why ask for something you don’t ever plan on using?”
Facebook countered with a statement saying that such a practice was common in the technology industry and that there shouldn’t be any conclusions drawn from a company’s patents alone.
But that wasn’t the end of it; the congressmen claimed that Facebook did not answer the question of whether or not it has considered using the third-party tracking data to create profiles of users containing information on their habits, preferences, etc. and whether they plan on using this data for targeted advertising. They claim that Facebook has been particularly evasive in its answers and that the incident calls for an investigation on the patent, particularly of its purpose and intent. They also emphasize that there are still many areas that require clarification, such as what exactly Facebook means when it says that it uses the data for their “internal operations” and what particular activities are classified as “research, development, and service improvement”.
Congressman Markey says that he “remains concerned about unanswered questions about how Facebook uses consumers’ personal information”. Congressman Barton also says that he is “alarmed” by the lack of clear answers from the company. And since this concerns over 800 million of us and how our data is being used, perhaps we should be too.