Facebook “Like” Button Draws Privacy Scrutiny


Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg onstage at the F8 conference in April.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg onstage at the F8 conference in April.

James Martin/CNET)

When Facebook Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg recently announced a
“Like” button that publishers could place on their Web pages, he predicted it would make the Web smarter and “more social.”

What Zuckerberg didn’t point out is that widespread use of the Like
button allows Facebook to track people as they switch from CNN.com to
Yelp.com to ESPN.com, all of which are sites that have said they will
implement the feature.

Even if someone is not a Facebook user or is not logged in, Facebook’s social plug-ins
collect the address of the Web page being visited and the Internet
address of the visitor as soon as the page is loaded–clicking on the
Like button is not required. If enough sites participate, that permits
Facebook to assemble a vast amount of data about Internet users’
browsing habits.

“If you put a Like button on your site, you’re potentially selling out
your users’ privacy even if they never press that button,” says Nicole Ozer,
an attorney with the ACLU of Northern California. “It’s another example
of why user control needs to be the default in Facebook.”

In the last few months, scrutiny of the privacy practices of the
Internet’s second most popular Web site has reached an all-time high,
with politicians threatening probes and privacy activists calling for formal investigations. In response to the outcry, Zuckerberg convened a press conference last week at Facebook’s Palo Alto, Calif., headquarters, where he pledged to make privacy “simpler.”

For its part, Facebook told CNET on Tuesday that the information about
who viewed what pages with a Like button is anonymized after three
months and is not shared with or sold to third parties. A representative
acknowledged, however, that the current privacy description
of Facebook’s social plug-ins “is not as clear as it could be, and
we’ll fix that.” Facebook also said it will update its privacy policy
“to more clearly explain the information we receive.”

Facebook’s FAQ
says: “No data is shared about you when you see a social plug-in on an
external website.” No mention of this data-sharing appears under the
“Information from other websites” section of the company’s general privacy policy.

One Response to Facebook “Like” Button Draws Privacy Scrutiny

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