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Privacy groups challenge Facebook’s user website tracking plans

By Tim Mitchell on 19 Aug, 2014

This is a scenario I'm sure will be familiar if you're a Facebook user ...

Last week I was hunting around online for a new barbecue. Ever since, I've been presented with an ad on my Facebook page for barbecues.

I'm also thinking about changing my laptop some time soon so, again, have been visiting vendors' websites. And guess what pops up on my Facebook page?

It isn't magic and it isn't rocket science. But in June, Facebook announced that it would start tracking which websites you're visiting while you're logged in, then use the information to serve you with 'relevant' ads.

This has prompted long-running concerns to be brought right to the surface, with EU and US privacy and consumer groups calling on privacy regulators to stop the practice. In a letter to the Irish Data Protection Commissioner (DPC) and US Federal Trade Commission (FTC), a number of groups have expressed "deep alarm". (In Europe, Facebook s headquartered in Ireland, giving the DPC responsibility for defending its European users’ personal data and privacy rights under EU law). The letter stated: “Facebook already installs cookies and pixel tags on users’ computers to track browsing activity on and Facebook apps. If Facebook is permitted to expand its data collection practices, those cookies and pixel tags will also track users’ browsing activity on any website that includes a few lines of Facebook code.” It added that authorities should “act immediately to notify the company that it must suspend its proposed change in business practices to determine whether it complies with current U.S. and EU law".

Facebook has said: “When we ask people about our ads, one of the top things they tell us is that they want to see ads that are more relevant to their interests,” saying that in the US it would “soon” start tracking users’ off-site surfing behaviour, and adding that users who don't wish to be tracked in this way can opt out via the Digital Advertising Alliance website. This contradicts previous statements from the site to the effect that it does not track users across the web and said no information received when users see a Facebook social plugin on a third party website is used for advertisement targeting.

The answer is simple. If you don't want your surfing behaviour to be tracked by Facebook - and don't want to be bombarded with ads for barbecues, laptops or any other sites you visited when you were logged in - make sure you log out when you've finished your session. Which makes perfect sense anyway given our advice that you should always log out of secure websites when you've finished using them.

By Get Safe Online