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Congressmen Wary of Facebook Patent That Seeks to Track User Information

January 10th, 2012 01:30 admin View Comments

Facebook Logo_150x150.jpgThe Hill reports that Reps. Edward Markey (D-Mass) and Joe Barton (R-Texas), co-chairmen of the Congressional Privacy Caucus, have accused Facebook of evading questions related to whether it tracks users’ online activities to deliver more targeted ads.

The congressmen were not satisfied with Facebook’s response to questions raised by a February 2011 patent filing. It suggested that the social network tracked users when they were logged off and browsing other non-Facebook sites.

Facebook’s letter referenced a full audit of Facebook’s non-U.S. completed in December 2011 by the Irish Data Protection Commissioner, which instructed the social network to stop retaining advertising data indefinitely.

It also recommended improvements for how data is logged when people access websites with social plugins. The idea is to minimize the amount of information collected about people who are not logged in to Facebook, according to reports from ZDNet.

In its letter to Reps. Edward Markey (D-Mass) and Joe Barton (R-Texas), Facebook also discussed location-based advertising.

Facebook says that it gives the advertiser an opportunity to choose the audience based on information Facebook receives about location, including: people who say they live in a specific city, check in somewhere, or specify a location in a status update. As such, the user willingly provides the information to Facebook, who in turn hands it over to the advertiser.

The congressmen remained concerned about the possibility of targeted advertising.

“The main questions of whether Facebook has considered using third-party tracking data to build user profiles or employs user-provided data to target advertising remain unanswered from the company’s response to our letter,” writes Markey in a statement.

“Additionally in its response to us, Facebook states that it uses consumer-provided data for ‘internal operations, including data analysis, research, development, and service improvement’ yet provides no description of what these activities entail or how they affect consumer privacy,” Markey continues.

The congressmen were not satisfied with Facebook’s response.

“Facebook’s seems to be saying one thing and doing another,” said Rep. Barton. “In the company’s response, it talks a lot about how they don’t currently ‘track’ users online, but they just asked for a patent that would allow them to do just that. Why ask for something you don’t ever plan on using?”

Facebook settled with the FTC last November. Earlier this month, the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) requested that the FTC investigate possible Timeline privacy breaches.

Source: Congressmen Wary of Facebook Patent That Seeks to Track User Information