Facebook patent application suggests tracking of users on other websites, using information to target advertisements
WASHINGTON, D.C. – As part of their widespread ongoing investigations into online data privacy and security practices, Representatives Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) and Joe Barton (R-Texas) today queried Facebook about a February 2011 patent the company filed describing a method “for tracking information about the activities of users of a social networking system while on another domain.” Today’s letter follows recent Facebook statements that it does not track users across the Internet. The patent that Facebook filed early this year raises questions about the company’s current and future plans to gather information about its users, even when logged off from the Facebook website, and target advertisements to users based on the information Facebook collects. Facebook’s assertion that it does not track users followed the Congressmen’s letter to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) requesting that the Commission’s investigate reports that Facebook had been gathering information about the websites its users visited even after users logged out of Facebook. The company reportedly obtained this information when users visited websites that connect with Facebook, including websites with Facebook’s “Like” button.
Facebook’s patent application raises serious questions about whether the company plans to track users now or in the future,” said Rep. Markey. “Tracking users’ online behavior without their permission is wrong, and Facebook should clarify its plans for this patent. I am alarmed by a continuing pattern of privacy and security issues at Facebook, and I will continue to monitor this situation closely.”
“You can’t have it both ways,” said Rep. Barton. “I find it disturbing that Facebook has filed a patent to allow the company to basically track users when needed, while at the same time saying publically it  ‘does not track’ users. Something just doesn’t add up. According to their privacy policy, Facebook receives your IP address, web address, and the operating system used when a user visits any website that has the Facebook icon on the page. In some cases, they even know your User ID name and your location. This sounds like tracking to me, and I believe that it is time for Facebook to become more transparent about their data collection practices across the Internet.”
The letter to Facebook can be found HERE.
Reps. Markey and Barton wrote to Facebook in October 2010 after The Wall Street Journal reported a series of privacy breaches that affected “tens of millions” of Facebook users whose personal information was leaked to third party applications, even those who adjusted their privacy settings to the strictest possible settings.
In May 2011, Reps. Markey and Barton wrote to Facebook about a security vulnerability on Facebook that provided advertisers, analytics firms and other third parties the capability to access Facebook users’ accounts and personal information.
In February 2011, the lawmakers wrote to Facebook with questions about the company’s proposed plan to make users’ addresses and mobile phone numbers available to third-party websites and application developers.
In May 2011, Reps. Markey and Barton introduced the “Do Not Track Kids Act of 2011”, legislation that amends the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act of 1998 to extend, enhance and update the provisions relating to the collection, use and disclosure of children’s personal information.  The legislation also establishes new protections for the personal information of children and teens.