Thursday, December 29, 2011

Is Facebook The Most Appalling Spying Machine?

I am no big fan of conspiracy theories but I am a big fan of civil liberties protection in cyberspace. I also believe that when rights are outlawed only outlawed would have rights. If you add e-surveillance to this situation, the plight of civil liberties in cyberspace is well understood.

If a company engages in online profiling and data mining, something is grossly wrong with its policies and intentions. Further, the unilateral websites censorships by sites like Google and accounts censorship by sites like Facebook further adds woes to this situation.

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has labelled Facebook as “the most appalling spying machine that has ever been invented” although Facebook denied the same. Now Richard Stallman has declared Facebook and Google+ are mistreating their users. Furthermore, he points out Facebook performs massive surveillance with its tracking cookies.

Over the last few months, Facebook was accused multiple times of using cookies to track users even after they log out of the service, though it has since fixed the issues and explained how its system worked. Facebook has also been sued in multiple states for tracking its users even after they logged out of the service. All the lawsuits allege the company violated federal wiretap laws.

Recently 10 consumer and privacy groups have asked the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to investigate Facebook. This is the second request to the FTC for a probe of the social network this week. Even Edward Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat, and Joe Barton, a Texas Republican, have asked the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to investigate how Facebook’s cookies behave. However, Facebook has denied its recently-granted patent is used for tracking logged-out users. The company says it just describes the Facebook Platform.

A security researcher claims that Facebook alters its tracking cookies the moment you log out, instead of deleting them. Since your uniquely identifying account information is still present in these cookies, Facebook can continue to track you. This means that if you log out of Facebook, you’re not really doing much. If you then head to a website that contains a Facebook plugin, your browser will continue to send personally identifiable information back to Facebook.

Now Facebook is planning to gradually roll out sponsored stories in news feed, beginning next year. From January 2012, sponsored stories or advertisements, which now appear on the right side of the page, will be part of the news feeds of the users - along with other normal updates and posts. Every time a Facebook user clicks on the 'like' button for certain brands or pages, the ad would display the user's name, picture and a line, saying he/she likes the advertiser.

It seems Facebook is well committed to engage in e-surveillance and privacy violations of its users. Further Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, Adobe and many other companies also exhaustively track users’ online activities.

It is for the users to adopt privacy protection mechanisms to defeat such attempts of Facebook. Some good options include using plugins like Do Not Track Plus, Ghostery, Adblock Plus, etc. These plugins allow you to have a good control over your browser that sends referrer data through which these companies are misusing users’ data and information.

Do not trust these companies alone for your privacy protection and you must also take some pro active steps to enforce your privacy.