Facebook is Lying but Nobody is Caring

When it was reported that Facebook tracks our moves even when not logged in, many social sites, blogs, and forums erupted with mild outrage. I say “mild” because in the whole scheme of things, what’s half a million outraged users on a site that has nearly a billion?

Facebook responded quickly, noting that “Facebook does not track users across the web. Instead, we use cookies on social plugins to personalize content.” That was September 25th.

It was plausible and offered enough misdirection to give them the benefit of the doubt. Unfortunately, as Michael Arrington discovered, they filed a patent application 3 days before that said something a little different. I’ve highlighted the juicy parts:

In one embodiment, a method is described for tracking information about the activities of users of a social networking system while on another domain. The method includes maintaining a profile for each of one or more users of the social networking system, each profile identifying a connection to one or more other users of the social networking system and including information about the user. The method additionally includes receiving one or more communications from a third-party website having a different domain than the social network system, each message communicating an action taken by a user of the social networking system on the third-party website. The method additionally includes logging the actions taken on the third-party website in the social networking system, each logged action including information about the action. The method further includes correlating the logged actions with one or more advertisements presented to the one or more users on the third-party website as well as correlating the logged actions with a user of the social networking system.

Sorry, Facebook, but the wording in your patent clearly does not jive with the statement that you do not track users across the web. The patent says precisely the opposite and supports claims that you’re invading our privacy.

Our opinion stands. You’re up to no good.

…and yet we’ll still be using the site tomorrow

Is it wrong that the first thing I’m going to do after finishing this article is to post it on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+? Many of us, particularly those who rely on social media for our livelihood such as journalists, find ourselves in that terrible catch-22 of knowing more than the general public about the evils of some companies but are unable to act upon it meaningfully and personally.

Facebook has become an embedded aspect of millions of lives. Despite outrage, it will take something truly major for us to leave. Never before have so many of our friends and family from across the globe or down the block been able to keep up with each other through a single interface.

It’s not that we don’t want privacy. In many cases, we have either given up, are unaware, or have our heads in the sand thinking that everything will be okay and nobody will use our own information against us. I hope it’s true. I hope we can trust Facebook with tracking us because it won’t change. It doesn’t have to from their perspective. The small group of people who get outraged over things like this simply do not have the ability to change enough hearts and minds. Even major publications like NY Times, Mashable, and Washington Post will likely report something like this, but it will be forgotten or ignored by Tuesday.

We are sheep.


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