18 November 2011

How Facebook Tracks Its Users?

Finally Facebook reveals how it keeps track of its 800 million users. USA Today interviewed with Facebook engineering director Arturo Bejar and he explained how Facebook uses tracking-cookie technology to tracks its user’s internet activities. 

According to Facebook, it is a technology similar to systems used by the rest of the online advertising industry. Here are the full details how this system works:

1.  When for the first time you open a Facebook page, it inserts two browser cookies into your web browser. One is Browser Cookie and the other one is Session Cookie. If you signed up for a new account, Facebook inserts these two cookies at the same time but if you are a non-member who visit a Facebook page get a browser cookie only.
The company says Facebooke distinguishes between users as members who have signed in, members who have logged of and non-members.

2. In the time you creating a new account, the browser cookie and session cookie will be inserted to your web browser. When you are logged in, the session cookie is activates. The session cookie tracks following information:

A. User Profile Data
Name, email address, list of friends, user preference, via Like buttons.

B. Unique Data
IP address, screen resolution, operating system, browser version.

C. Time Stamp
Time, date and each URL visited that uses a Facebook plug-in.

3. If you are non-member and visiting facebook for the first time or browsing the facebooke (when you are logged out) but not in your account, the browser identifier cookie activates. What it tracks:

A. Alphanumeric Number
A number unique to the cookie, no personal information is retrieved.

B. unique Data
IP address, screen resolution, operating system, browser version.

C. Time Stamp
Time, date and each URL visited that uses a Facebook plug-in.

4. What Facebooks says about uses for tracking data?

A. Bosting Security
Tracking logs help Facebook identify and block faked accounts, phishing scams and viral web links.

B. Enhance user experience
Logs help to improve the display and usability of Like button and other plug-in services on third party websites.

C. Generating ad revenue
At this time, Facebook does not use tracking logs to target ads to specific individuals. Sponsored ads that appear on Facebook.com are directed to members’ attention based on self-disclosed profile information and preferences expressed by clicking Like buttons.

All tracking information and logs are collected from past 90 days of user activities and the older logs will be deleted automatically.

According to Mashable and USA TODAY, these collected data (user web searches and browsing) by Facebook could be used to figure out political affiliations, religious beliefs, sexual orientations or health issues about consumers.

“This type of correlation doesn’t seem to be happening on a wide scales, but the concern of some privacy advocates is that selling data could become a tempting business proposition- both to social networks like Facebook and online advertising players such as Google, Microsoft and Yahoo that similarly employ cookie tracking techniques.”

In my opinion does not matter that if Facebook uses these data for improving security levels (that is what they are saying) or for online commerce, it is absolutely violating users’ privacy. What is your opinion?