Thursday, July 28, 2011

Facebook and Twitter Buttons Track Users Around the Web

According to a new study by the Wall Street Journal, Facebook and Twitter social widgets are being used to track website visitors around the web, whether or not they engage with these buttons.

The social widgets – Facebook’s “Like” button and Twitter’s “Tweet” button – are ubiquitous. In the past year they have been added to millions of web pages and are normally used to share content with friends and followers.

The Wall Street Journal found that Facebook and Twitter are able to tell which websites the users are visiting even if they don’t “like” or “share” the content. The tracking happens unless users completely log out of their Facebook and Twitter accounts. Facebook says that they only use the tracking function for advertising purposes in order to display ads related to search history on a user’s Facebook sidebar. Twitter reports that they delete tracking data “quickly” and that the tracking is an unintended side effect of the functionality of the button.

Although both Twitter and Facebook deny that the tracking has any other purposes, theoretically the implications are much different: User search behavior can be linked back to a person’s social profiles, which normally includes detailed personal information. A person’s reading habits can be tracked back to their name, email address and offline information – everything from health concerns to past times to political and religious views. Privacy advocates compare it to having someone follow you around the library and taking notes about every book that you look at.

The new revelations come out amidst increasing concerns about Internet user privacy. There have been at least five bills presented before Congress dealing with online privacy issues in the last year.