Is Facebook Tracking Your Surfing Habits?

September 29, 2011, By Christian Cawley

Recent changes to Facebook have led to claims that the famous social network is tracking its users’ web browsing habits whether the user is logged in to the service or not.

This is of course a heavy accusation. While it should be understood that when using Facebook apps and games your activity will be logged and possibly reported to your friends, having non-Facebook activity recorded for the company to then serve relevant adverts next time you login is taking things too far.

So is it happening or not?

Is Facebook Tracking Your Surfing Habits?

Well, Facebook denies it, with the following statement:

“Facebook does not track users across the web. Instead, we use cookies on social plug-ins to personalize content (e.g. show you what your friends liked), to help maintain and improve what we do (e.g. measure click-through rate), or for safety and security (e.g. keeping underage kids from trying to sign up with a different age). No information we receive when you see a social plug-in is used to target ads, we delete or anonymise this information within 90 days, and we never sell your information.”

Whether or not Facebook is abusing the use of cookies, the above statement is worth keeping in mind, and gives an impression on the depth and breadth of what Facebook are currently doing with your information. And while we’re on the topic of your information, the section that says “we never sell your information” – well, Facebook doesn’t need to, they make enough money out if themselves…

How Can I Prevent Facebook Tracking Me?

Whether the above statement is simply “fire-fighting” or not isn’t yet clear, but one thing is for sure: your browser belongs to you, even if your information is slowly being eaten up by Facebook.

As a result, you’re in control over how cookies in your browser are used, and whether or not they get deleted when you close your browser. This could be the best defense against any plans that Facebook might have to introduce this form of tracking (and that is what it is – desensitized adware tracking for which permission is implied simply by using Facebook).

In Internet Explorer, this isn’t possible without manually deleting cookies (via Tools > Internet Options) but in Firefox you can open Options > Privacy, select Use custom settings for history and select the Keep until they expire option.

The Ultimate Option

Of course, there is an alternative. Get out of Facebook. Different methods are available, from simply abandoning the service (and after all, how many YouTube clips of cats falling off a TV can you watch in a day?) to requesting that all of your information is completely deleted.

There is a feeling among certain commentators and movers and shakers in the online industry that Facebook is becoming bigger than it needs to be. We’ve already seen in the past how Yahoo and MySpace have both been considered “too big to fail” and while Facebook might not have the same horrific layout issues of MySpace to disrupt its userbase, many feel that the social network is pushing too far, too fast.

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