By Joshua Ostrer
If you’re a student, or really anyone for that matter, chances are you have a Facebook account.
However, as it turns out, whether or not you actually have a Facebook account doesn’t affect whether or not Facebook tracks your Internet activity.
It comes as little surprise that Facebook tracks user activity. How else do they have banner ads on the side of the page that mirror that conversation you had on Facebook chat yesterday?
How does Facebook track you? With cookies.
Cookies are small pieces of data that are sent from a website, then stored in the user’s web browser, before being returned to the website at the website’s request to provide a view of the user’s activity during that span of time.
While cookies do have benefits—such as remembering your likes, location, billing information, or login information—they are also doing many things you might not be too comfortable with.
According to a report released by USA Today, Facebook does the following:
1. “The company complies tracking data in different ways for members who have signed in and are using their accounts, for members who are logged-off and non-members. The tracking process begins when you initially visit a facebook.com page. If you choose to sign up for a new account, Facebook inserts two different types of tracking cookies in your browser, a ‘session cookie’ and a ‘browser cookie.’ If you choose not to become a member, and move on, you only get the browser cookie.”
2. “From this point on, each time you visit a third-party webpage that has a Facebook Like button, or other Facebook plug-in, the plug-in works in conjunction with the cookie to alert Facebook of the date, time and web address of the webpage you’ve clicked to. The unique characteristics of your PC and browser, such as your IP address, screen resolution, operating system and browser version, are also recorded.”
3. “Facebook thus compiles a running log of all your webpage visits for 90 days, continually deleting entries for the oldest day and adding the newest to this log. If you are logged-on to your Facebook account and surfing the Web, your session cookie conducts this logging. The session cookie additionally records your name, e-mail address, friends and all data associated with your profile to Facebook. If you are logged-off, or if you are a non-member, the browser cookie conducts the logging; it additionally reports a unique alphanumeric identifier, but no personal information.”
This tells you that Facebook is not only updating your name, e-mail, friends and all Facebook data while you are signed in, but also monitoring your actions as you browse the web even after logging out.
A study conducted by Business Insider shows that Facebook is primarily concerned with what news you read, but they also are substantially interested in the following: what stock trading news you look at, where you shop online, what advertisements you click on and what you link on social sites.
Facebook has maintained that it does not use any information gathered while you’re offline, despite possessing and tracking all of it.
“We’ve said that we don’t do it, and we couldn’t do it without some form of consent and disclosure,” said Facebook’s Director of Engineering Arturo Bejai to USA Today.
Facebook’s official response did little to counter the information published in the USA Today report.
The report was troubling to many, including U.S. legislators.
Although legislation is attempting to address the issue, the Do-Not-Track Online Act of 2011 was referred to committee and has not made visible progress as of yet since its introduction on May 9, 2011.
But after all this is said and done, does it really matter? Yes, Facebook is holding onto troves of your personal information and browsing history, but are you going to delete your account? Probably not.
Fear not, you do have options. Free programs available online like “Abine DNT+” block trackers. They show you who is attempting to track your internet activity, and keep a tally of how often it happens
Business Insider’s Facebook study found over 200 trackers on websites they visited, but they used this program to block the trackers.
Facebook has managed to become such a widespread social medium that those who don’t use it are almost frowned upon as being antisocial.
But don’t forget, even if you do delete your account that doesn’t mean Facebook is done tracking your Internet activity.
If it is indeed true that the masses are bound to Facebook, then your only hope for online privacy is to install privacy-protecting software or to wait for legislators to protect your rights for you.
How successful they will be remains to be seen.
While Facebook and other sites similar to it might not be up-to-no-good, it’s important to stay mindful of what information you are making available online and who you are making it available to.