Facebook criticised for tracking browsing

Facebook’s plan to track every move you make on the internet in order to send you related advertisements has been lambasted by EU and US consumer bodies.

The Transatlantic Consumer Dialogue has written to Billy Hawkes, the Irish Data Protection Commissioner because Facebook has its European HQ in Ireland, and to the American Federal Trade Commission asking them to investigate urgently.

Mr Hawkes will be the first port of call for any EU citizens with questions about their personal data and privacy rights.

The EU and US bodies say they were “very concerned” about Facebook’s intentions and want them prevented from going ahead with their plan, which “would be an unprecedented incursion into users’ lives online”, according to the letter.

The letter asked the Irish Data Protection Commissioner how what they called this “new vast expansion of the social network’s data collection and user-profiling” would have been allowed following the Irish office’s previous investigation and commitments made by Facebook to improve its privacy practices.

“We respectfully call on you to take the appropriate action, order Facebook to reverse its new data collection practice, and develop public accountability mechanisms for the company to ensure it is complying with required privacy practices,” the letter said.

Facebook announced last month that it would start tracking the websites and apps its users visit and use the information to serve them up “more relevant advertisements”.

This would mean that even if a person was not on Facebook, the company would leave cookies on their computers that would track their movements as soon as they went online.

They say that anybody that does not want this can opt out via the Digital Advertising Alliance website — but this has been severely criticised by consumer bodies as being far from ideal.

Currently opting out involves going to the DAA site and downloading an opt-out cookie that also has the effect of working against their privacy rights.

Facebook’s plan is almost identical to a programme they introduced in 2007 when they tracked users when they were no longer on Facebook, and transmitted the information back to Facebook.

It caused a major controversy and resulted in a petition from consumers while others filed a class-legal action in the US for violating their privacy. Facebook abandoned it during the course of the lawsuit, and apologised.

The latest move is a complete reverse — as the company will now routinely monitor the web-browsing activities of its users and exploit that information for advertising purposes, the letter says, and wants the US Commission to investigate whether it violates the consent order between them and Facebook.


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