Facebook is Lying but Nobody is Caring

Facebook Lies

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.


Leave a Reply


  1. I’m not disagreeing with your take on the ethics of it, but I think you’re slightly off the mark here in terms of the allegation at hand. The “storm” last week was due to Facebook doing all those things regardless of whether or not you were signed in. After the uproar, they’ve made it so that it’ll only do it when you’re still logged in.

    Standard practive, really – Google do the same to power their ads. In fact, Google’s is worse – they plonk a cookie on your machine whenever you view a page with Google Ads on it. No logging in required.

  2. Kristen Ridley

    You’re post is right on the money, but here’s my question: If all these sites are tracking us so they can throw online ads at us, but we never, EVER click on an ad on any website no matter what it says, does it matter?

    The way I see it, anyone who’s dumb enough to click through to an ad they see on the sidebar of any website kind of deserves what they get. So knock yourself out Facebook and Google, you can throw all the ads you want at me, but if I refuse to touch them with a ten-foot pole, no harm, no foul, no??

  3. AngryDude

    “Is it wrong that the first thing I’m going to do after finishing this article is to post it on Facebook.”

    The word for that is “hypocrisy.” Just quit if you’re so outraged.

  4. Daniel

    @Kristen Ridley

    You’re assuming all they do with the data is tune their ad serving mechanisms. What I’m more worried about: Handing my profile data to the government, political campaigns, perspective employers, job hunting and sourcing sites, personal info sites like Intelius or Bigfoot, etc.

    If all these companies did was to send me an ad for bike equipment if they see I mountain bike, or try and offer my wife and I vacations after we say that we’re married that is one thing, but why do you think they would stop there if they can make their next billion by doing the things I’ve mentioned above?

  5. nick

    @Kristen Ridley

    Basically, when you log in to facebook or google, they plant an “unkillable” cookie on your machine. When I say “unkillable” I mean that it won’t be deleted if you log out. The good thing here is that this cookie can only be used from facebook’s or google’s domains. However, when other sites include the “like” button or a facebook plugin (or google’s “+1” and/or ads), then these cookies become accessible to them. Therefore, if you go to a website you shouldn’t, and the website has a like button (and even if you don’t click it), facebook still knows you went there through the stored cookie which tells it who you are. They know you went there and they can do ANYTHING with that information.

  6. TomN

    We can all stop the tracking by installing browser extensions.

    I prefer “Disconnect” for the Chrome browser because I know it was written by an ex-Googler. This add-on can also block Google, Twitter, Yahoo, and Digg (btw, this page has 2x references which is kind of ironic).

    I run a very lean browser (only 4x extensions) and it’s always one of the first I use.

  7. Objective Tech Reader

    Actually, no… not everyone is going to post it to facebook.

    That’s kind of the stupid thing about journalists “needing” facebook. I read tons of tech blogs, from very popular to downright obscure. Unless you’re giving away a sweepstakes that requires you to post to your wall, or wrote yet another OMG-IFONE-FIVES article, the most likes, hits, shared links or whatever that your article will get is maybe 100 average, 200 max. Is it really worth adding that Like button?

    Most people don’t RTFA on someone’s wall anyway. They comment on the headline on a facebook wall and that’s the end of it. You don’t even get a click! You’re basically giving facebook content and still losing money.

  8. matt

    It’s JIBE. It doesn’t jibe, not jive. If you are writing a published piece you should already know that, but the real blame lies with your editors. LEARN ENGLISH IT IS YOUR JOB

  9. This article is quite misleading. Having a patent for something doesn’t mean you’ve actually implemented that thing. Seen the patent list for Apple, Microsoft or any other tech company recently? If every patent were actually in use, we’d all have flying cars and solar-powered brain implants by now. Undercutting the seriousness of your article by “but I’m still gonna use Facebook” doesn’t negate the deceptive nature of the article. Please at least update the article to note that a patent application does not necessarily imply that Facebook is lying.

  10. Ezi

    matt, if you want to teach english do it in a building. the internet has low reader comprehension, as is evidenced by the reluctance of so many to admit to themselves that corporations are inherently evil and will throw you under the bus for a nickel!

    micha, have you tried to delete facebook cookies? they are like Michael Myers-it just keeps coming back! I check mine 3 times a day without logging on to FB and they are sometimes there still. The only way I can think that would happen is if another cookie interacts with the FB like beacon. But then, you don’t really want to hear that, do you?

  11. Sarah

    Mica, you’re wrong. Facebook said in another quote that same day that it has “no interest” in tracking users across the Web, then files a patent application to do just that? That’s lying.

  12. Loud Mouth Hypocrite

    And this blog does not track users to increase traffic and to make money…

  13. Duane

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

    Not me. Their jackbooted attitude toward privacy made me leave them years ago. I have gotten along just fine without.

  14. From the comments I seeing here we will have big wars between Google and Facebook.

  15. If peoples likes something, they don’t care what they do… this is in the case of Facebook… even before Gmail index content of emails to serve ads in Gmail, who cares about that? no one because everyone love Gmail… this is not going to kill Facebook…

  16. Maeta

    OK so Facebook is going to track everything thier followers do and everywhere they go. What is the big deal? From what little experience I have had with Facebook (I do not have an account there) most of the people use it to tell everyone what they are doing and where they are going. It is a web site that allows people to show off…er…I mean, share thier lives with anyone who may be looking. Facebook is just taking it a step farther. If you do not want them tracking you, don’t use it. Plain and simple.

  17. Dan

    Nice article.

    I confess to be more than mildy concerned to last last week that Facebook had made some sweeping changes and that I was going to have to go through (again) and figure out all my privacy settings.

    I was even more disturbing to read that this thing called “auto-publishing” was going to begin posting stuff into my time line without me even knowing about it.

    As a marketer wrapping my head around how brands will benefit from these changes has helped me understand a little bit more than the average person about how the changes affect users but your blog (and the copy of the patent they filed) spells it out just how clandestine they have been.

    You’re right that already the FB changes are yesterday’s news and me – like many others I bet – will not close down our Facebook pages.

    It would be good to get a few tips on how to live a happy fulfilled life on Facebook without sticking our heads in the sand…. any thoughts?


  18. Sam

    Facebook can turn information over to authorities at any time without a warrant. Facebook has to surrender your information. I have just read a book called, “Someone is Watching You! Read it and you will find how you are watched all the time by businesses, government, and numerous other entities because of Facebook. The fellow who started Facebook doesn’t care. He just wants his billions. Self-centered narcissistic individual who doesn’t care about his subscribers. He is similar to the rest of the individuals in the world who only cares to make a buck and doesn’t care who is getting hurt. It is scary. People are too nonchalant with their info. I just deleted my Facebook account although it won’t do any good because they have my info no matter how I made it private. We are having our privacy invaded by everyone out there! We have no rights anymore. If you’re not paranoid now, you will be when you peruse this book. Even talks about the rip off scam of supermarket discount cards. Jacking prices up and then making the consumer think they are getting a discount when they use their shopper’s card to get a discount. It is recommended that shopper’s purchase their goods at a supermarket that does not use shopper’s cards.
    Everyone wants to take the time to use Facebook or other social sites, but never takes the time to investigate to protect themselves. Facebook also doesn’t care about criminals getting your information either. A lot of people have been traumatized by criminals getting information on Facebook. Facebook doesn’t care. Oh, I have so much more to tell, but it would end up being a book. The almighty Facebook has been sued in the past from citizens for giving out the citizen’s personal information. Now Facebook’s attorney put a stop to that and Facebook can still use your private information without dilemmas.
    I am not endorsing the book, ‘Someone is Watching you”. I am just a reader of it and also I have background in this information of our privacy being invaded. As I say, if you are not scared now, then read the book and you will be. Your privacy is gone.
    Don’t be dogging the person who wrote this web page. If he didn’t care he wouldn’t waste his time writing it. Lots of naive citizens out there. Investigate before you sign up for anything.
    Anyone who dogs his grammar or mistakes in his writing is only picking on petty things instead of looking at the real issue.

    If anyone is interested in the book, “Someone is Watching You” you can find it on Amazon or other websites. It is factual information every citizen should read.

  19. It’s mainly because of these underhanded tactics that I left FB—-and by “left” I mean deactivated.

    Unlike other social networks, you cannot delete your account. I emailed them in reference to having my account permanently deleted with no response.

    To say that that is disturbing is an understatement.

    Why can I not have the option of deletion? Why should I have to beg to get them to delete my account? Astounding.

  20. seo

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  21. Lawn Job

    Facebook is full of lies.stay away!!

  22. Facebook is full of lies.stay away!!

  23. Facebook invited me to join up. As soon as i did they shut me out the first hour demanding my phone number. I gave them my phone number 2 weeks ago & was told the system is overloaded try in a few more mins. That was over 100 try & try agains ago.
    So they got all this stuf on me but i got nothing but several lost hours of on line time.
    This is strait up consumer fraud.


  24. Mvs

    My wife has been unable to log on to facebook for several days and used the help box on the facebook entry page she was told that she needed 99.00 to join Live technician and that our account had been hacked and someone is trying to get into our bank accounts from NJ I have been unable to get a response from facebook……is this their new plan to increase revenue. Has anyone else experienced this?

  25. Face book has been lying on me for a very long time now about me. they have made me change my name so many times , right now I have me a time line there , and they have 3 pages there, and all of my friends are qwitches and we wiytches stick together and as you know that we are millions now all over the world, and with us we get things done. But my page is now 3 pages long and votes are not correct they will not allow me to use my email name , they will not accept my phone number yet my friends call me and facebook calls me when ever they want to change my phone number thing to another lie, and they will not allow my pictures to download or nothing else now I am going to go to google chrome now and damn facebook on the internet explorer

  26. Franchesca

    Facebook tracks people even if they don’t belong to their website. I’ve never had a facebook account, I still don’t, and never will, but I get phony emails from Facebook saying people I used to know (who I left on bad terms with and know for a fact would NEVER EVER invite me to join Facebook) invited me to join their site. First of all, if I’ve never had an account or spent time on their site, so how do they have my email? Facebook tracks EVERYTHING. They know the names of those people I knew, and decided they can lie and say they invited me to attract me to their site. Which I for one think is outrageous. They have the audacity to lie for people I knew, and then if I were to actually join their stupid site, I would be left with the argument and further damage to my relationship that would ensue when I go “Hey, guys! I’m glad you still like me enough to have invited me!”

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