Concerning Facebook & The “Do Not Track” Option

    March 16, 2012
    Drew Bowling
    Comments are off for this post.

Google’s been taking a lot of heat lately for their übercookies that were persistently tracking people who used Apple’s Safari browser and Microsoft’s Internet Explorer. It created enough of a stir in the technology world that it bled over into the political world, prompting the White House to draft a Consumer Bill of Rights that laid out protections of individuals’ personal information.

Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, and AOL were some of the companies that coalesced around the bill, leading to the “Do Not Track” initiative that will enable internet users to indicate to companies that they do not wish to have their browsing habits tracked.

One company that was curiously absent from the “Do Not Track” summit was everybody’s favorite social networking site, Facebook. It’s not as if they weren’t at least an auxiliary participant in the events that led to the creation of the “Do Not Button” talks – Google basically outted Facebook when the search company was defending its practice of exploiting a flaw in Internet Explorer related to a P3P policy. While seemingly trying to minimize the scope of their tracking practices amid the Google-Apple-Microsoft finger-pointing debate, Google asserted that Facebook was using the same IE exploit to track users with their ‘Like’ button that hangs atop most webpages these days. Facebook was unimpressed with Google’s ignominious claim and simply stated that, yes, the ‘Like’ button did in fact use the same IE bug that Google had been accused of using.

And then… that was about all you heard about Facebook. Out of sight, out of mind.

Despite using the same IE flaw that Google was using, Facebook was strangely excluded from the list of sites to be blocked by the “Do Not Track” button. The company then quietly exited stage right.

It’s probably in Facebook’s best interest that Google remains the face of the privacy villain as it allows the social networking site to remain withdrawn from the harsh spotlight. Still, that doesn’t mean that the company’s unmistakable absence from the discussion is going unnoticed. Yesterday, the Electronic Frontier Foundation called for Facebook to take a more proactive role in participating in the “Do Not Track” discussions and permit its users to better control the use and collection of their personal data.

Responding to a request for a comment for this article, Facebook provided the following statement that was originally released after the Commerce Department unveiled its report outlining consumer privacy principles and announcing the browser tracking agreement:

We applaud the Commerce Department’s privacy framework for seeking to both honor the expectations consumers have when they use online services and promote the innovation that has fueled the growth of the Internet into an engine of job creation and a provider of invaluable services to consumers. We appreciate the Department’s attention to guiding principles like control, accountability, and transparency, which are core to Facebook’s commitment to its users. Additionally, we look forward to participating in the process convened by NTIA to develop enforceable codes of conduct while balancing the public’s demand for new ways to interact and share.

It’s a cleverly crafted statement that, disappointingly, manages to use many words to not really say much at all.

Speaking to The Wall Street Journal last month concerning the “Do Not Track” button, Christopher Calabrese, legislative counsel at the American Civil Liberties Union, said that they “want [users] to be able to not be tracked at all if you so choose.” While Facebook has declared their willingness to participate in the development of privacy standards for users, they should work beyond their K Street mentality and directly involve the users upon whom Facebook’s livelihood depends. If Facebook is truly concerned about transparency and privacy controls, it would bolster their standing in public opinion to not only shape privacy policies based on its own interest but also act as a bridge for the public to contribute their opinions, as well. After all, pro-privacy can still be profitable.

  • http://www.LAokay.com Steve G

    So what happens if everybody chooses not to be tracked?

    What would happen to sites like Facebook and Google if they can’t collect any data about it’s visitors? What would happen to the internet in general if everybody selected not to be tracked? How would you find somebody trying to break into your systems if they asked not to be tracked and so your tracking system complied with that request?

    I think the do not track should be optional at the webmaster level and visitors should get a warning when sites are not complying with that request when they have asked not to be tracked. It’s like ok, you walked on to my property and I put up a sign that says you are being recorded. Should you have the right to opt out of that recording of you being on my property? I have a privacy policy which discloses what information I collect and what purposes I use that information for. I think it’s very clear to the general public that they are being tracked and if they don’t like it, then they shouldn’t be on the internet at all.

  • http://www.mabuzi.com Mabuzi.com

    No private corporation nor government has the right to track you. This is a violation of your rights. The defualt shouldnot be tracked and those who wished to be tracked can be.

    Most users do not want to be tracked. Have a web referemdum and you will see the vast majority wants their privacy respected.

    “What would happen to sites like Facebook and Google if they can’t collect any data about it’s visitors? ”

    Well for one not much to Google as its core business is search. Facebook on the other hand is data collection service and nothing more. Facebook will be hit hardest

    Most users dont actually know that they are been tracked. This site for example has Chartbeat, Digg Widget, Google +1, Google analytics, iEntry, Linked in Widgets, Pinterest, Stumle upon and Twitter all vying to track you in some way.