|Re: Facebook page created for Hewlett Packard Calculators|
Message #10 Posted by Howard Owen on 2 Oct 2011, 1:44 p.m.,
in response to message #7 by Egan Ford
Tracking cookies are a normal part of the Internet now. (Sometimes "normal" describes behavior or facts that suck.) Tracking cookies are set by sites like doubleclick.net (Google's ad network) when you get shown one of their ads. The ads are served up by doubleclick.net servers, so the next time you load an ad the cookies the first one set get sent back to doubleclick.net. Doubleclick uses this to create a "click trail" that tells them what ads you have looked at. If you subsequently buy something an ad promoted, this information is used to prove to the advertiser that the ad "worked." Thus it is the basis for measuring ad effectiveness. It's also used to serve you ads targeted to your interests as revealed by your click trail.
This is normal, though creepy. However the big deal here was that one of the cookies that Facebook left on your browser after logout contained your user ID. Doubleclick and other ad networks are not supposed to associate your click trail with your actual identity. They don't need to do that in order to figure out your preferences or measure your buying behavior. But your Facebook user ID can absolutely be used to identify you. The Facebook "like" and comment buttons you see everywhere are served from Facebook directly, so whenever you load a page that has one, every FB cookie you have is sent back to the Facebook server, including that one, whether you are logged in or not.
As often happens when Facebook is made aware of an issue, meaning when they are caught such that a problem becomes widely known, they have responded to the problem by issuing a fix that deletes the cookie with your user id when you log out. This is what should have happened in the first place. Indeed, several other cookies associated with your logged in session are deleted when you log out. Facebook claims that the cookie in question was mistakenly left on your machine after logout. They also claim that the behavior the blogger described, where a fake account he created was somehow tied to his real account, could not have been due to this cookie since it was never used that way by Facebook. They ask you to trust them when they say that's they way it was supposed to work.
Facebook can be trusted to try to increase the amount of information you reveal to your friends and to others because that information is valuable. Facebook doesn't sell that information directly to others. They make it possible for others to access it if you let them. Facebook applications can get at a lot of that information, depending on how your privacy settings are configured. Each time you sign up for an application, you get a permission dialog that asks you to allow the app to access this information. If you set your privacy settings to be restrictive, and you avoid using Facebook applications, you can eliminate or at least minimize the information about you that is given to third parties. But events like this one undermine trust in the platform.
Personally, I think Facebook is evil, but I participate anyway. Many of my friends are there. Significant things are shared that I want to know about. It's not just what movies people are watching or what trip they are taking. My friends frequently share what they believe, how they think, how they feel and so forth. This stuff is part of the substance of friendship. I also get access to information my friends are interested in. Links to websites enlighten or annoy me. They can make me laugh or make me angry. I also share what I'm doing, thinking and feeling with them. My friends list is small enough that I can do that comfortably. When Facebook is caught doing something like this, it undermines that comfortable feeling. But I carry on because my friends are there. That fact is important and relevant to my everyday life. It's not that I couldn't stay in touch with some of my friends without Facebook. But I couldn't keep up with all of them. And many of my younger friends use Facebook as a primary means of communicating with me. That's worth the privacy risk, though I often wish it weren't.