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The Facebook Cookies Saga: U.S. Law Makers Press for FTC Investigation

29
Sep
2011

binary_data_lockEven with the explanations provided by Facebook about how their cookies helped protect the users, many remained skeptical of the true purpose of these cookies. Unwilling to take the company’s word as is, Representatives Joe Barton of Texas and Ed Markey of Massachusetts sent a letter to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) requesting for an investigation on Facebook’s practices.

The main focus of the letter was the recent issue that emerged over Facebook’s cookies. Australian Technologist, Nik Cubrilovic, wrote about the possibility of Facebook tracking our online activity even after we log out through its cookies. He discovered that Facebook cookies were not deleted after users logged out, only altered. Cubrilovic had actually known about this issue for a year and has since been trying to get word from Facebook. When he received no response, he went ahead and wrote about it in his blog, thereby triggering the public outcry.

A Facebook representative then told Cubrilovic that they had already fixed the issue, ensuring that no unique user information would be sent to Facebook through the cookies. Facebook refused to remove them entirely, though, once again stating the cookies’ purpose. Cubrilovic then wrote a follow up post saying that while he believed what Facebook said about using the cookies for the users’ protection, people should not be complacent and should still use a separate browser for Facebook or, at least, be sure to delete the cookies once you log out.

Reps Barton and Markey aren’t satisfied quite yet, though, and this letter to the FTC is proof of that. Here’s an excerpt from the letter they sent to the FTC:

“We believe that tracking users without their knowledge or consent raises serious privacy concerns. When users log out of Facebook, they are under the impression that Facebook is no longer monitoring their activities. We believe this impression should be the reality.”

The two lawmakers believe that the responsibility to address this issue falls well within the agency’s bounds.

However, it’s still uncertain whether or not the FTC will act on this request. Addressing the issue can be a double-edged sword. On one hand, it would no doubt help ensure that the users are protected from any privacy breaches executed by the company itself. On the other hand, what Facebook is saying about the cookies could be entirely true, and removing them might cause the users to end up with even less security than before.

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