Facebook is under fire for letting browser “tracking” cookies stay active even after a user has logged out of its website, adding fuel to consumer concerns of the social network’s privacy policies.
Australian blogger Nik Cubrilovic reported cookies to continue to track his Facebook-integrated pages even after he logged off the social network. Cubrilovic says he contacted Facebook with this concern earlier this year, but got no initial response. This past Sunday, however, Cubrilovic drew attention to the problem by posting a blog post demonstrating his claim and sparking broad debate.
Facebook said yesterday it would fix the privacy breach and will no longer collect identifiable information after users log out of its site.
The move comes as scrutiny sharpens over companies’ practices regarding location, tracking and privacy, causing many businesses to retool features to better protect user information. Facebook last month unveiled new privacy settings for sharing information, moving the privacy controls from a separate settings page to users’ home and profile pages.
But other changes by Facebook only drew criticism for perceived violations of privacy. Last month Facebook debuted several new features, like its Smart Lists, causing an unexpected backlash. Many appreciated the use of the feature but others saw it as type of privacy violation.
The new concern over cookies may draw additional investigation at a time when Facebook is already being called to Congress to explain its handling of privacy. As the company ramps up growth and advertising, the way it collects and transmits data about its larger user base may continue to draw criticism, signaling this may not be the last of Facebook privacy issues to come.
Browser cookies are small computer files that collect information about users as they browse the Internet. Information from cookies can be transmitted to remote servers for analysis.
Cubrilovic posted a table to detail the personal information Facebook collected in this manner. The information includes a Facebook user ID, which makes it possible for the social network to personally label computer usage information that it collects from PCs.
“It’s a question of what they do with it,” Cubrilovic said regarding the information that may be collected. “They may not do [anything] with it now, but in two years’ time, they might introduce a new feature that accesses it.”
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