Facebook is still tracking you

The news is in that Facebook is tweaking how their Beacon system works. Beacon is a tool a website can use to associate your actions on those sites to Facebook. There is a great post covering the technical details at Radiant Core. When you do something that triggers the Beacon (buying a table on overstock.com, for example), the information about what you did is sent to Facebook. Next, a popup appears and asks if you want to publish this information in your Facebook news feed. In the old system, if you didn’t select no an item would appear in your news feed. Publishing was opt-out. Under the new system, you must approve each item. Publishing is now opt-in. However, the information is sent to Facebook regardless. This isn’t the first time Facebook has silently collected information on its users from third-parties; they used to mine college newspapers and AOL Instant Messenger away messages. The relevant section from Facebook’s privacy policy is Facebook may also collect information about you from other sources, such as newspapers, blogs, instant messaging services, and other users of the Facebook service through the operation of the service (e.g., photo tags) in order to provide you with more useful information and a more personalized experience. Facebook may be just sitting on this data, but I think it’s more likely that they’re feeding into into their algorithm for targeting advertising.

From my perspective, the current change is an important but insufficient improvement. Two more things need to happen.

  1. All websites using Beacon should make it an opt-in feature.

  2. Facebook should create a page where you can control the sites from which it accepts and stores Beacon information about you. It should discard any information from sites that you don’t authorize.

For now, if you don’t want Facebook collecting this information about you, log out before visiting any websites that use the Beacon.

EDIT: Facebook has stated that when Beacon activity occurs on a third-party site, if you elect not to show it they won’t store it.