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Facebook continues to fall foul of user privacy expectations

Facebook has kicked up a lot of fuss about Google’s approach to privacy. You know the adage about people living in glass houses? Well, apply it here.

As most people will know, sometimes the only way to make big corporations hear you is to use a very public platform to shout out your complaints. This is what Aussie computer and internet expert Nic Cubrilovic did. On 25 September he wrote a blog post complaining about the fact that Facebook uses cookies to track users even after they’ve logged out. He first discovered the problem towards the end of 2010 and wrote to Facebook on 10 November to let them know. When nothing happened he notified them again on 12 January 2011. Both times he included more than one email address in his communication. He was ignored both times.

Now, a year later, it seems that he has run out of patience and decided to go very public.

According to an article on the Wall Street Journal, after you log out of Facebook, the cookies follow you as you visit sites with Facebook’s “Like” button – which, these days, only includes most sites. Facebook then knows where you went after you left your profile.

Facebook did not deny the cookies but said that the data isn’t logged and is used only for security and aggregate statistics purposes. To be very clear, the site maintains that it does not provide advertisers with the data collected. According to Facebook’s director of engineering, Arturo Bejar, the data is necessary to prevent spam and phishing attack and eliminate tedious authentication processes every time users want to log in.

Shortly after opening the can of worms – 30 minutes after – Cubrilovic received a call from Facebook and during the course of a 40 minute conference call helped the company see the error of its ways. Or so he hopes.

Worms will crawl

Unfortunately for Facebook, it has more privacy issues to deal with as users vent their dissatisfaction with its latest updates, specifically the new Timeline feature, which allows users to see posts and status updates dating all the way back to the creation of the profile in question.

Zack Whittaker (ZDNet.com) says, “Though your individual privacy settings have not changed on individual posts, statuses and photo uploads, almost every other documented addition to content is to resurface for every user who has a Facebook profile.”
According to Whittaker, this is conducive to online “stalking”, which is not a comforting thought; especially when you consider the reputation management and online PR implications that go hand-in-hand with anyone being able to see everything you ever said on Facebook – even when you were a newbie and didn’t know much about online privacy and the value of not running your mouth.

What’s more, according to Kashmir Hill (Forbes.com), Facebook keeps information about everything that has ever happened to you on the site. This includes pokes, events you’ve been invited to (whether you accepted the invite or not), and all the people you unfriended.

If privacy is an open can of worms, Facebook had better start looking in various nooks and crannies before it tries to close the lid. After all, very few people react kindly to having worms come out of the woodwork.


(Image by CleveredFool, CC by 2.0, via Flickr)

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