Thursday, June 19, 2014

With 'Like' button, Facebook tracks you across the web

Dear Comrades,

Facebook users beware: The company has officially declared that it will be tracking your online consumption and behaviour on Facebook, and off Facebook too. Like Google, Facebook wants to leverage its understanding of your user behaviour to serve you more targeted ads.

Facebook has been using your likes and posts on Facebook to target ads to you already. Now, though, Facebook will track you across any website you visit, as long as the site has a 'like' button, a Facebook login, or any Facebook code. And Facebook will track your reading habits, even if you don't login via Facebook or click on 'like' button on the site.

You may not be aware of this, but Facebook has managed this via an automatic-opt-in feature — albeit one which you can opt out of. However, activists and analysts point out that companies like Facebook, Google etc should only be allowed to use your data by turning it on through your explicit permission (manual opt-in instead of automatic opt-in) — and not by having to turn it off through an opt-out.
For advertisers, Facebook is aiming to build a bank of data to help target advertising better. The raw data is processed by big data brokers like Acxiom and Datalogix to develop profiles of users, which are then made available to advertisers.

Suppose you regularly surf sites that discuss fashion and accessories. You will be profiled as a fashion geek, and advertisers interested in fashion geeks will be able to serve ads to you on Facebook.

This can be big business for Facebook. Google earned as much as $13 billion off of data-based targeting. Facebook is looking to take a larger piece of this growing market.

For consumers, this is the hidden cost of Facebook: your data. Facebook doesn't charge users because it makes money by selling access to demographics of users. This often results in advertising that seems to "follow you around," which can feel intrusive.

The major issue is that users are not asked if they consent to being tracked, ie, there is an automatic opt-in process, instead of this being a manual opt-in process where users can choose to allow this to happen or not. Instead, all that Facebook gives users, is the option to 'opt-out' —but the problem is that experts know that less than 2% of users actively go through the opt-out process.

Meanwhile, when we asked users whether they would be okay with Facebook tracking their consumption habits, over 40% of respondents said they would not want to be tracked.

And world over, post the revelations that intelligence agencies have had access to electronic communications and data stored by the internet giants, consumers have begun seeking refuge for privacy. The growth of recent internet startups, such as Snapchat and Whisper, highlight the desire for anonymity.

Globally, regulators are mandating that internet companies receive an "opt-in" from consumers, where consumers explicitly allow companies to use their data, and disallow the buying, selling, renting, or using of third-party data (data from other sources than the site itself).

For example in 2009, European Parliament amended a 2002 directive to discourage tracking of web users through third-party cookies. The new directive, commonly called Cookie Directive, notes: "(EU) Member States shall ensure that the storing of information, or the gaining of access to information already stored, in the terminal equipment of a subscriber or user is only allowed on condition that the subscriber or user concerned has given his or her consent, having been provided with clear and comprehensive information... about the purposes of the processing."

Based on the directive, EU countries have enacted local laws that mandate websites take explicit consent from users for tracking them on the web. The local laws apply even if the website is hosted outside EU. Whenever the website is accessed by users in a EU country it has to warn users of third-party cookie tracking and take their permission.

Experts agree that such a solution, which makes sure that users opt in instead of opt out of web tracking, is required in India to protect consumers and thwart an economy built on selling users private data.
Today, Google and Facebook likely know more about users than even the government. There are over 100 million users on Facebook and Google in India today, and with mobile penetration growing in India faster than any other market in the world, that number is going to grow quickly.

Online publishers, for their part, have also been given an ultimatum: either allow Facebook to take your data, or risk losing significant traffic by not enabling users to share content on Facebook and reach more friends.

Initially, Facebook had offered its 'share' tools to publishers as a healthy exchange. Facebook could populate its site with relevant content, and Facebook would help publishers gain traffic. However, Facebook is now turning its 'like' button into a Trojan horse, where publishers give their data to Facebook, or lose valuable traffic.

Regulators worldwide are starting to take action.

The European Commission for the Digital Agenda is overseeing new rules that will govern privacy policies, and is evaluating a mandatory opt-in requirement for consumers to be tracked.

Other countries are working on methods so as not to allow internet companies to track users' behaviour on third party sites and sell/monetize/use that data for advertisement targeting, without users opt-in consent (not opt-out, as it currently stands). Users should agree to let Facebook, Google etc use their data by turning this on, not by having to turn it off.

India, too, requires a solution where internet companies receive an 'opt-in' from consumers, where they explicitly allow companies to use their data, and disallow the buying, selling, renting, or using of third party data (data from other sources than the site itself). Experts agree that this is critical to protecting consumers and thwart an economy built on selling users private data.

Facebook has offered a way for consumers to opt-out, similar to Google's options for opting out. But very few know about this and fewer still use it.

How to stop Facebook and Google from tracking you:
Follow these short steps below to stop Facebook and Google from tracking you around the web. Of course, this doesn't stop them from following what you do on their sites, but it stops them from tracking you across the internet.
1. Open the website
2. The tool will list all companies that are tracking you to serve ads
3. Select the ones you want to stop (or select all)
4. Click "Submit my choices"
Source:-The Times of India
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