Facebook Like Button Tracks Everyone
In 2011 Arnold Roosendaal, Tilburg University, published Facebook Tracks and Traces Everyone: Like This!. This was groundbreaking and earth-shattering research into how the Facebook Like button actually operates to track online users.
At the time the paper was published, the Facebook Like button would actually set a tracking cookie in the browser of visitors to websites that used the Facebook Like button even when the site visitor has never visited Facebook’s website or registered for a Facebook profile.
The Facebook Like button cookie would continue to track these anonymous user’s online browsing history by updating the cookie everytime they visited a site that used Facebook Connect or had the Facebook Like button installed.
If the anonymous user ever visited Facebook.com and created a Facebook profile, their anonymous user history would be merged with their personally identifiable Facebook profile data. This process would also work when anyone would delete their cookies, use an alternate browser, or use different workstation then access their Facebook profile.
It appears Facebook has stopped this practice as a result of Rosendaal’s paper. But many privacy concerns remain over the functionality of the Facebook Like button and other social media sharing features.
The Facebook Like Economy
The Facebook Like button controversy continues more so in Europe than in the States where privacy is a greater concern and European privacy law much tougher. So it is no surprise some of the most interesting thinking and research on Facebook also comes from Europe.
Reworking the Fabric of the Web: The Like Economy featuring Anne Helmond (NL) and Carolin Gerlitz (UK) is a great example. This presentation offers a revealing look at Facebook’s efforts to define the social network business model around harvesting user data with social media sharing features like the Facebook Like button.
A very similar story can be told about the Twitter and Google+ badges and most other social media icons. I will have more to share on the Track the Trackers project and the tools they use very shortly.
I especially like the incorporation of the advertising policy which very few universities do. However, I am not sure how well the advertising policy is followed by special departmental sites especially Virginia Athletics. But that is an issue for another post.