Facebook Denies Web Tracking Accusations

Facebook claims that data it collects from its new “Like” feature will not be used for behavioural ad targeting

Facebook had denied reports that its upcoming feature – which enables web publishers to embed a “Like” button in their sites – will be used for behavioural targeting.

Facebook is expected to introduce the new function at its annual f8 conference in San Francisco this week. The “Like” button will be similar to buttons currently offered by Twitter and Digg, and will replace Facebook’s “Become a Fan” pages.

Users surfing the web will be able to click on the “Like” button to show appreciation for a site they rate highly, and a link to the site will automatically be posted on their Facebook profile.

Facebook accused of behavioural targeting

A report in the Financial Times today claimed that the new system would allow Facebook to track its users’ behaviour and use the information to deliver highly targeted advertisements to them on the social networking site.

Facebook already delivers targeted advertising to its users using the personal information in their profile, such as location, age, gender and relationship status. However, this new level of behavioural targeting would be likely to spark a privacy outcry from users of Facebook.

The social network has denied claims that the button will be used to track social networkers’ web activities. “The Financial Times incorrectly suggested that Facebook is launching behavioural ad targeting at f8, our upcoming developer conference,” said Facebook in a statement. “We have no announcements or changes planned to our ad offering or ad policies.”

Facebook explained that the decision to implement the “Like” button was based on it being more global and easy to understand than the fan pages. “Users are already comfortable and familiar with it,” the company said.

The privacy problem

The question of Facebook’s privacy policy has been in the spotlight since the beginning of this year, when founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg was widely criticised for saying that people no longer had an expectation of privacy thanks to increasing uptake of social networking.

“People have really gotten comfortable not only sharing more information and different kinds, but more openly and with more people,” he told the Crunchie Awards in San Francisco in January.

Zuckerberg’s comment unleashed a storm of protest, but evidence shows that many individuals and businesses are often indiscriminating about the information they publish online. In January the Ministry of Defence (MoD) admitted that confidential information had been leaked on social media sites and the Internet at least 16 times over the previous 18 months.

Last year, research from an international law firm showed that the majority of UK firms now block access to social media websites such as Facebook, due to concerns over security and legal risks, including the inadvertent disclosure of confidential or proprietary information. Cisco also warned that the use of social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter in enterprises requires much greater governance and oversight than is currently practised.