Concern about Facebook’s respect for data privacy is widening to include the information it collects about non-users, after Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg said the social network tracks people whether they have accounts or not, Reuters reports.
Zuckerberg said last Wednesday under questioning by a US lawmaker that, for security reasons, his firm also collects “data of people who have not signed up for Facebook.”
Privacy advocates immediately protested the practice, with many saying Facebook needs to develop a way for non-users to find out what the company knows about them.
“We’ve got to fix that,” Ben Luján, a Democrat lawmaker, told Zuckerberg, calling for such disclosure, a move that would have unclear effects on the company’s ability to target ads.
On Friday Facebook said it had no plans to build such a tool.
Privacy concerns have swamped Facebook since it acknowledged last month that information about millions of users wrongly ended up in the hands of political consultancy Cambridge Analytica.
Critics contend that Zuckerberg has not said enough about the extent and use of the data.
“It’s not clear what Facebook is doing with that information,” Chris Calabrese, vice president for policy at the Center for Democracy & Technology, a Washington advocacy group, told Reuters.
Facebook gets some data on non-users from people on its network, such as when a user uploads email addresses of friends.
Other information comes from “cookies”, small files stored via a browser and used by Facebook and others to track people on the internet, sometimes to target them with ads.
“This kind of data collection is fundamental to how the internet works,” Facebook said in a statement to Reuters.
Asked if people could opt out, Facebook added, “There are basic things you can do to limit the use of this information for advertising, like using browser or device settings to delete cookies. This would apply to other services beyond Facebook because, as mentioned, it is standard to how the internet works.”
Facebook often installs cookies on non-users’ browsers if they visit sites with Facebook “like” and “share” buttons, whether or not a person pushes a button.
Facebook said it uses browsing data to create analytics reports, including about traffic to a site.
The company said it does not use the data to target ads, except those inviting people to join Facebook.
Advocates and lawmakers allege Zuckerberg was not forthcoming about the extent and reasons for the tracking.
“He’s either deliberately misunderstanding some of the questions, or he’s not clear about what’s actually happening inside Facebook’s operation,” Reuters quoted Daniel Kahn Gillmor, a senior staff technologist at the American Civil Liberties Union, as saying.
The ACLU is pushing US lawmakers to enact broad privacy legislation including a requirement for consent prior to data collection.
At a minimum, “Facebook is going to have to think about ways to structure their technology to give that proper notice,” Woodrow Hartzog, a Northeastern University professor of law and computer science, told Reuters.
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