Facebook Tracking Probe Sought by Washington Privacy Group

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A privacy-rights group said it will ask the U.S. Federal Trade Commission to examine Facebook Inc.’s tracking of Internet users after they log off the world’s most popular social-networking service.

The Electronic Privacy Information Center will file a letter with the FTC today, according to Marc Rotenberg, the Washington-based group’s executive director. The group also will ask the agency to examine whether Facebook’s new Ticker and Timeline features boost privacy risks for users by combining biographical information in an easily accessible format, said David Jacobs, consumer protection fellow for EPIC.

“We would like the FTC to investigate the extent to which Facebook’s recent changes and its secret tracking of users after they have logged out constitute unfair or deceptive business practice,” Jacobs said in a telephone interview.

Facebook, based in Palo Alto, California, is adding features to entice users to spend more time on the site and avoid losing them to Apple Inc. and Google Inc., which also offer video and music services. Last week, Facebook Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg unveiled new ways for members to use the social network to share music, movies, television shows, news and activities such as cooking and exercising.

Blog Posting

The letter to the FTC references a Sept. 25 blog posting by Australian blogger Nik Cubrilovic, who wrote that Facebook placed so-called “cookies” on users’ browsers that tracked their Internet activity even after they logged out of Facebook. Although Facebook moved to resolve the issue, “it’s unclear how complete the fix is,” Jacobs said.

“There was no security or privacy breach,” Andrew Noyes, a Facebook spokesman, said in an e-mail. “Facebook did not store or use any information it should not have.”

Facebook has “no interest in tracking people,” engineer Gregg Stefancik said in a recent blog post. “We do not share or sell the information we see when you visit a website with a Facebook social plugin to third parties and we do not use it to deliver ads to you.”

The letter to the FTC is also signed by public interest groups including the American Civil Liberties Union, The American Library Association, the Bill of Rights Defense Committee, the Center for Digital Democracy, the Center for Media and Democracy, Consumer Action, Consumer Watchdog, PrivacyActivism and Privacy Times.

‘Partial Fix’

“Facebook has been tracking the Internet activity of users even after they have logged out of Facebook,” the consumer groups state in the letter. “Facebook has been engaging in post-log-out tracking for at least a year, and only issued a partial fix after facing intense criticism, indicating an unwillingness to respect consumer privacy without external pressure.”

Noyes said people who try the new features announced by Facebook last week will “find that they have complete control over whether their information is shared and with whom.”

“We’ve invested heavily, including consulting several privacy organizations, to build an authorization dialogue that is obvious, easy to understand, and has a privacy setting built in,” Noyes said.

EPIC previously urged the FTC to investigate Facebook’s privacy practices, including default privacy settings and its facial-recognition feature.

–Editors: Stephen Farr, Mary Romano

To contact the reporter on this story: Sara Forden in Washington at [email protected]

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Hytha at [email protected]

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