As concerns and controversies culminate over Facebook's privacy breach, two House members are asking the Federal Trade Commission to examine the social networking site's practice of tracking browser cookies. It's been years that the company has been met with criticism on the topic of privacy, and now the debates may finally call for federal investigation. Will Facebook survive this?
To no surprise, it seems as though people everywhere have their eyes on Facebook's next move on resolving the issue and appeasing millions of users. Since its launch in February of 2004, Facebook continues to experience tremendous market growth and build worldwide recognition. Despite the overwhelming success, ensuring user safety remains one of the company's greatest struggles.
The common misconception is that logging ourselves out of these sites discontinues the tracking of our subsequent activity. The reality, however, is that web cookies actually remain active even after the log-out. This essentially allows Facebook to - without your permission - continue monitoring your browsing activity and store information from your session, such as online purchases and user preferences. The real danger here consumers are seeing is that their personal information may be leaked to other harmful third-parties, like identity thieves or spyware, that can get their hands on these text-based files.
Although Facebook's defense is that the company is not storing or using that information in any way, some users stand firm that this is a violation of their privacy. From an advertising standpoint, Facebook is really no different from most agencies that exercise tracking to tailor their ads to our tastes. The fact of the matter is that Facebook is just one out of a whole host of websites that place HTTP cookies in our computers. Over 900,000 sites in the online community do the exact same of tracking users' activity in order to learn about customers through their online behavior.
Consider this: Do you pay your bills online? Order gifts over the Internet? Use gas station cards? Every time we engage in these transactions and send information electronically, we are allowing companies to track us. In that sense, cookies aren't too different.
Today, most of us enjoy the convenience of letting technology take care of as much as possible for us. It's become so convenient that we're forgetting the risks this kind of luxury can come with. Right now, it's up to us to decide how much a social medium like Facebook should be held to the same standards. Perhaps more fitting than ever, as companies would disclaim, use Facebook at your own risk.