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Facebook Tracks You Even If You Opt Out, Says Belgian Report

An investigation has revealed Facebook seeds your computer with tracking cookies, no matter what.

Facebook Tracks You Even If You Opt Out, Says Belgian Report
[Photo: Flickr user Kangrex]

If you have suspected Facebook is tracking you for ad campaigns, no matter what, all the time: You are right. A report commissioned by Belgium’s data protection agency has slammed Facebook for tracking people online, even if they are not logged into Facebook, even if they have opted out of tracking–even if they are not Facebook users at all, The Guardian reported Tuesday. The European Union has been coming after Facebook and Google for alleged anti-privacy practices for a while, but now it finally has proof that Facebook is disobeying privacy requests from users in direct violation of EU law. Prepare for a showdown.

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The report, created by researchers from the University of Leuven and Vrije Universitiet Brussels, claims that Facebook tracks users even if they are not logged in and even if they have explicitly opted out in Europe, says The Guardian. Facebook uses its tracking cookies for advertising and places them on a person’s computer when they visit any website on the facebook.com domain, The Guardian explains, even if the sites don’t require viewers to be logged in (like with fan pages, for example). If a person visits any site with a Facebook social plug-in (e.g., a “like” button), the cookie pings back to Facebook even if the person doesn’t interact with the plug-in–which, as The Guardian points out, is on more than 13 million websites (including government and health websites).

EU law requires that sites get consent before putting tracking cookies on users’ computers or tracking them. The report appears to confirm the EU’s previous complaints that Google and Facebook have been violating EU citizens’ privacy, from as far back as 2010. Last July, Facebook angered regulators in the United Kingdom and Ireland who say Facebook violated user privacy by manipulating users’ emotions without their consent. A Facebook spokesperson told The Guardian that it was confident its upcoming privacy policy update will address these particular privacy concerns:

“We’re confident the updates comply with applicable laws. As a company with international headquarters in Dublin, we routinely review product and policy updates including this one­ with our regulator, the Irish Data Protection Commissioner, who oversees our compliance with the EU Data Protection Directive as implemented under Irish law.”

Should the EU officially find Facebook in violation of privacy law, it is unclear what actions it would take against Facebook, whether they would be effective, and even whether the U.S. government would back them up. President Obama in a Re/code interview in February dismissed the EU’s privacy concerns as a smokescreen tactic to fight American Internet giants in order to make European tech companies more competitive in the global market.

[via The Guardian]

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