Facebook Facing Government Scrutiny

It appears Facebook’s privacy concerns aren’t over as two U.S. lawmakers are asking the FTC to investigate them for their tracking practices. Although Facebook has updated their logout logic to remove the tracking cookie, it appears the issue still caught the government’s attention. From the ComputerWorld article:

Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Rep. Joe Barton (R-Tex.) wrote an open letter Wednesday urging FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz to look into Facebook’s tracking of its users even after they log out of the site.


“As Co-Chairs of the Congressional Bi-Partisan Privacy Caucus, we believe that tracking user behavior without their consent or knowledge raises serious privacy concerns,” wrote Markey and Barton. “When users log out of Facebook, they are under the expectation that Facebook is no longer monitoring their activities. We believe this impression should be the reality.”

Considering that cookies have been used for years to track users’ browsing habits, I wonder why this specific case has caught the government’s attention.

Microsoft Patents Eavesdropping On VoIP Conversations

According to an article on TheTelecomBlog, Microsoft has patented a technology titled ‘Legal Intercept’ that would allow them to eavesdrop on VoIP conversations. From the article:

The technology would allow Microsoft to silently record communications on VoIP networks such as Skype. While some believe it’s no reason to panic, others believe it gives Microsoft or government officials a license to secretly intercept, monitor and record Skype calls while they are doing the unmentionable.

Although the patent was filed before Microsoft acquired Skype, it does explicitly name them in an example.

As for use cases:

Microsoft says that ‘Legal Intercept’ can be used by the US government or “one of its agencies”. If further mentions that this technology would require obtaining “appropriate legal permission”, which might not be that difficult for a government to acquire.

I wasn’t shocked by who may use the technology, but I am concerned if this technology is circumvented for illegal or nefarious purposes.

OnStar Reverse Terms and Conditions Changes

It appears the negative press and government scrutiny may have gotten to OnStar. Today, they announced that they would reverse changes to their Privacy Policy:

OnStar announced today it is reversing its proposed Terms and Conditions policy changes and will not keep a data connection to customers’ vehicles after the OnStar service is canceled.

I wonder if this change will suffice, or if legislation will still be drafted to head off future attempts.

Facebook Addresses User Tracking Issue

Just two days ago, I posted an article highlighting how Facebook tracks you regardless of login status. Following this discovery, Facebook has come out publicly and denied that it tracks users after they logged out. Apparently the PR move was not enough to quell the concerns of the interweb users, so Facebook has now updated their logout logic to also delete the cookie containing the user’s unique ID.

As before, Nik Cubrilovic does an excellent job documenting the changes, as well as what the existing Facebook cookies are used for. If you feel the need to dig deeper (not a bad idea), give his newest article “Facebook Fixes Logout Issue, Explains Cookies” a read.

Facebook Tracks You Regardless of Login Status

It appears Facebook continues tracking users outside of its site, regardless of their login status. According to Nik Cubrilovic, Facebook leaves a cookie on your computer, even after you log out. This allows them to track where you go, so long as the external website has a Facebook “Share” or “Like” button on it.

This really should come as no surprise, considering the user is actually the product. What better way to determine what should be marketed to you than to capture as much of your web browsing history as possible.

You do have a couple of options to ensure this doesn’t happen to you:

  • Don’t use Facebook
  • Manually clear your cookies after logging out of Facebook

For the privacy-sensitive users, there are some third-party solutions to help you manage your cookies more intelligently. If you are a Mac user, I would recommend Cookie from SweetP Productions. This helps you manage your browser cookies, Flash cookies and databases for Safari, WebKit, Chrome, Chromium, Camino and Firefox from a single interface. If $14.99 is too much, you can give their free Safari Cookies plugin a try. I use the latter, and I couldn’t imagine browsing without it.

In addition to privacy concerns, I also wonder how this would impact users on a shared computer. I could only imagine how siblings’ Facebook accounts would start to blur from a web browsing history perspective.

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