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Report Says Facebook is Tracking All Site Visitors, Violating EU Law

     
11:30 am on Apr 1, 2015 (gmt 0)

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Facebook has hit back at the research findings and claim the report contains "factual inaccuracies."

Many privacy campaigners have been concerned about extensive levels of tracking, and this is especially important if a user chooses to opt out: That means opting out, and not a half opt out.

Facebook tracks everyone who visits its site, including people who don't have an account, and even continues to track users and non-users who have opted out of targeted ads, researchers at two Belgian universities have found. Report Says Facebook is Tracking All Site Visitors, Violating EU Law [pcadvisor.co.uk]
It turns out, for instance, that Facebook places a cookie on the browser of anyone who visits a Web page belonging to the facebook.com domain, even if the visitor is not a Facebook user, the report found. The cookie placed by Facebook is called "datr" which contains a unique identifier and has an expiration date of two years.

Facebook users also get a range of additional cookies which uniquely identify the user.

Once these cookies have been set, Facebook will in principle receive information from them during every subsequent visit to a website containing a Facebook social plug-in. These cookies will give Facebook information like the URL of the Web page that was visited as well as information about the browser and operating system, the report said.


Earlier story
Facebook's New Terms of Service "in violation of" EU Law [webmasterworld.com]
4:37 pm on Apr 3, 2015 (gmt 0)

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Just because of the date of this original post some may have been sceptical.

Here's more
Led by Dutch regulators, the probes have also pulled in Germany and Belgium. That differs from past investigations into Facebook, which typically were conducted solely in Ireland, which is home to the company's European headquarters. But countries in the European Union are increasingly joining forces to challenge US companies they believe may be running afoul of European privacy laws.

If the investigations move forward, Facebook could face a fine in the millions of euros and be ordered to modify its business practices in Europe.

Facebook has argued that the countries involved in these probes don't have the authority to investigate it since its European privacy policy is governed by the data regulators in Ireland. But some regulators in Europe said that they should not be limited from looking into Facebook's practices simply because of Ireland's oversight. Ireland's own privacy regulator has said that it "does not claim exclusive competence or jurisdiction" over Facebook, according to the Journal. Europe Ramps Up Probes into Facebook User Privacy [cnet.com]
6:16 pm on Apr 6, 2015 (gmt 0)

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Now I personally don't necessarily mind all of these various forms of tracking that occur within various companies. But, I am not sure that I understand the entire picture behind user tracking either. So could someone please explain what is at stake and what it can be used for, when this kind of information is collected about me?
Also, Is this the appropriate place to ask this question?
Thanks.
9:29 pm on Apr 6, 2015 (gmt 0)

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Tracking is used to build a user profile so you can be targeted with ads from various vendors based on your behavior and interest while on FB. The problem is you have a right not to be tracked and should by law be able to opt out.
6:48 am on Apr 7, 2015 (gmt 0)

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Personally I think the problem is that the EU doesn't understand the internet (see their humorous cookie disclosure laws).

Cookies are a basic part of the functionality of the web and they are opt in by definition. A website sends a request to the browser, which then decides whether or not to store a cookie. A user can tell their browser not to store cookies. I'm sure this isn't news to most WWers.

But the public conversation, and the information that gets translated to tech ignorant politicians, is slightly different. From the EU organization responsible for handling the cookie law:
The law which applies to how you use cookies and similar technologies for storing information on a userís equipment

This is not, of course, what happens. A website has zero power to store anything on a device. It can only request that a cookie be stored. Then later it has no power to retrieve information from a device, it can read the cookie only if the browser sends it.

It's a subtle distinction but it makes all the difference in terms of how people react. If websites are storing data on your computer without your consent that sounds scary and wrong. If websites are asking your browser if it would please store a very small amount of data and consider returning that data on subsequent page loads... well there's no news story in that, and certainly no political talking points.

If the goal is to educate the public that virtually every site on the net uses cookies, it would be far cheaper to run a huge ad campaign than what the EU is doing/has done.

That said, since FB has physical presence in the UK, if they set cookies without the silly "we use cookies" popup the EU requires... they're probably screwed.
The problem is you have a right not to be tracked and should by law be able to opt out.

Turn off cookies and you have effectively opted out. Or just turn off 3rd party cookies and opt out of the worst of it without breaking your internet experience.

Unless you mean being tracked in a more general sense, in which case you need to stop using the internet to opt out.

That's the thing that (maybe thankfully) gets left out of the whole cookie conversation. You don't need cookies to track people. Request anything from a server (even if it's not served by the website you're visiting, such as an ad image) and you send all the data needed to associate you with a profile. Why? Because without that exchange of data the internet just plain doesn't work.

Hopefully by the time that makes it into the news cycle (OMG OMG websites can see your IP and your browser and your language and your operating system and...) the politicians responding will be from a younger generation that understands the web a little better.
11:48 am on Apr 7, 2015 (gmt 0)

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(OMG OMG websites can see your IP and your browser and your language and your operating system and...)

That will never hit the news cycle. Add "... unless you use appropriate obscuring techniques" and you see what a can of worms they would necessarily be opening.

Everyone using TOR, VPNs,proxys and whatever else would be a nightmare for the Government, on everything from security to blocking child pr0n (and torrent sites).

It would be a rare politician who knew what an IP address was but didn't grasp the implications of scaremongering on basic internet implementation protocols
8:52 pm on Apr 7, 2015 (gmt 0)

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Don't underestimate legislative stupidity... Cookies do little to nothing to improve upon the tracking and profile building ability inherent to networking, all they do is simplify it a little, and yet the EU cookie law exists.

It's a pretty fundamental misunderstanding when you implement a law in 28 countries to protect consumer privacy that does not actually protect consumer privacy. Especially when it puts an extra burden on website owners in those countries. Fast forward a decade or two and you can imagine a dozen more legal hoops and requirements for website owners, creating a significant barrier to entry into what was previously a free and open space.

I'm just thankful that none of really crippling legislation that's been proposed has been passed in western countries. Unless you count France.
 

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