Facebook is facing yet another legal challenge over its “Like” feature—this time as it pertains to cookies and tracking user information. As you might recall, Facebook “likes” are also the subject of a lawsuit involving whether the buttons violate children’s right to privacy.
According to the complaint filed by three California residents, “Unbeknownst to Internet users, Facebook uses the ‘Like’ button to track Internet users as they browse the Web and thereby collects private and, in some cases, sensitive information about them.”
The plaintiffs are claiming privacy violations under the California constitution, alleging they had a reasonable expectation that their Internet browsing would “remain anonymous;” they are also seeking class action status.
According to Media Post, the report on which the lawsuit is based is called “Facebook tracks and traces everyone: Like this!” by Arnold Roosendaal of Tilburg University. In it, Roosendaal contends that a user—whether a Facebook member or not—doesn’t even need to click a “like” button in order for a tracking cookie to be installed. Simply visiting a page that has a “like” button could allow the social media giant to track a user via cookies, which are unique to a user and linked with his or her name.
The way this could happen in the case of non-members of Facebook is through a service called “Facebook Connect,” which allows Internet users to connect to certain sites by using their Facebook log-in information. Even if a person has no Facebook log-in information, though, sites that use Facebook Connect still set a cookie and can track that user’s subsequent visits to other sites that also have a “like” button.
Thomas Reuters News & Insight notes that the collected data is then “priced, bought and sold in discrete units for marketing and other purposes,” according to the complaint, which also claims that the number of websites with a Facebook “like” button is over 2.5 million—and growing every day.
As reported by Media Post, in response to an article in The Wall Street Journal about Facebook, Google, and others collecting user data even without their clicking any buttons, Facebook and Google “specifically said they ‘anonymize’ the information.”
Although there has been no official comment on this specific lawsuit, Facebook’s stance on gathering information via cookies in general has already been expressed in a letter opposing California’s proposed “Do Not Track” bill, SB 761, which would require websites to gain user permission before collecting data through cookies; in the letter, Facebook and others claimed the legislation “would create an unnecessary, unenforceable and unconstitutional regulatory burden on Internet commerce.”
How do you feel about Facebook’s privacy protections and “like” button?