Lawmakers Ask FTC to Join Facebook Tracking Debate

Two U.S. Congressmen asked the Federal Trade Commission to investigate Facebook’s practice of letting browser cookies stay active even after a user logs out of its website, as consumer concerns build over the social network’s privacy policies.

“When users log out of Facebook, they are under the expectation that Facebook is no longer monitoring their activities. We believe this impression should be the reality. Facebook users should not be tracked without their permission,” said the letter sent to the FTC by Reps. Edward Markey (D., Mass.) and Joe Barton (R., Texas).

The Congressmen’s letter refers to claims made earlier this week by Australian blogger Nik Cubrilovic, who said he learned of the problem a year ago but was unable to get an official response until he wrote about it on a blog post over the weekend.

Cubrilovic’s blog post sparked debate and drew the attention of Congress, again adding to growing concern and scrutiny over Facebook’s handling of privacy. Congress has previously asked Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg about his company’s privacy practices, and Reps. Markey and Barton also grilled the network about previous privacy compromises.

Cubrilovic claimed Facebook was able to obtain information after users logged out of the social network and visited websites that feature the company’s “Like” buttons. An estimated 900,000 sites include this feature.

For its part, Facebook’s spokesman said the company did not store or use any information that it should not have.

“There was no security or privacy breach,” said Andrew Noyes, manager of public policy communications at Facebook in an e-mail.

An engineer with the Palo Alto, Calif.-based company explained the social network, like every site on the Internet that personalizes content and tries to provide a secure experience for users, places cookies on users’ computers.

The spokesman did concede three of these cookies on some users’ computers inadvertently included unique identifiers even after the user logged out of Facebook, but stressed the company didn’t store these identifiers and didn’t use the information for tracking or other purposes.

The acknowledgment of the cookies and the vow to address the situation may take some time. Arturo Bejar, a Facebook director of engineering, told the Wall Street Journal on Monday that changing it may “take a while.”

Lawmakers Markey and Barton raised concern over just how quickly the company will act in this regard, writing to FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz, “Facebook should consider this problem a top priority and should allocate the resources necessary to safeguard consumers in an expedited fashion.”

Facebook may want to retain the ability to track browsers after logout for safety and advertising purposes, and to log page requests for performance reasons. But while the social network may not be using them to track users, it risks appearing complacent on privacy issues if it doesn’t respond.

This post originally appeared at Mobiledia.

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