Friday, 18 November 2011

Facebook finally admits

Could Diaspora ever challenge Facebook and Google Plus? Facebook hit with unsolicited porn, violent videosFacebook buys e-mail prioritiser MailRankIn a series of interviews with USAToday, Facebook has finally revealed how it tracks users and non-users across the web, gathering huge amount of data as it does so. Says ABCNews/USAToday:

Facebook officials are now acknowledging that the social media giant has been able to create a running log of the web pages that each of its 800 million or so members has visited during the previous 90 days. Facebook also keeps close track of where millions more non-members of the social network go on the Web, after they visit a Facebook web page for any reason.

Allegations from Ireland’s Data Protection Commissioner that Facebook was creating “shadow profiles” of non-users were initially refuted by Facebook’s spokesman Andrew Noyes, who said categorically that “The allegations are false.”

After months of equivocation, Facebook finally admits that it tracks both users and non-users across the web but fails to appease its critics. AFPBut Facebook spokesman Barry Schnitt, engineering director Arturo Bejar, engineering manager Gregg Stefancik, corporate spokeswoman Jaime Schopflin, and Noyes have now revealed the extent of the company’s tracking. As previously thought, Facebook are using cookies to track anyone who visits a page.

From this point on, each time you visit a third-party webpage that has a Facebook Like button, or other Facebook plug-in, the plug-in works in conjunction with the cookie to alert Facebook of the date, time and web address of the webpage you’ve clicked to. The unique characteristics of your PC and browser, such as your IP address, screen resolution, operating system and browser version, are also recorded.

Facebook thus compiles a running log of all your webpage visits for 90 days, continually deleting entries for the oldest day and adding the newest to this log.

This means that Facebook could find out which web pages specific members visit after they have logged off, but Bejar says that Facebook don’t do this and “couldn’t do it without some form of consent and disclosure.”

The idea that we have to just trust Facebook not to act unethically with the data it gathers is risible, particularly given Facebook’s past laissez-faire attitude towards its users’ privacy. And it certainly hasn’t satisfied critics.

Facebook is already being investigated by the Federal Trade Commission regarding its use of cookies, amongst other things, but may face further questioning in the US Senate, ZDNet reports:

[US] Senator Jay Rockefeller, chairman of the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, said today he would hold a hearing to look into reports that Facebook is using cookies to track users even after they log out of the service.

“No company should track customers without their knowledge or consent, especially a company with 800 million users and a trove of unique personal data on its users,” [he said].

Facebook’s intrusion is hard to escape. Even if you aren’t a Facebook member, it’s difficult to avoid ending up on the site once in a while, and it’s certainly impossible to avoid going to sites with Facebook plug-ins and buttons. The ‘Like’ button is now so widespread that attempts to avoid it would require giving up on the web altogether.

There are tools to help protect users from Facebook’s surveillance, such as Priv3, Ghostery and Adblock Plus, but I’d hazard a guess that most users either don’t know about them, use browsers that don’t support such plug-ins, or simply don’t believe it’s a problem.

This latest confession from Facebook does beg the question: What kind of unethical behaviour will it take for Facebook users to rebel? Facebook is operating on the basis that it can pretty much get away with anything and, unfortunately, this seems to be mostly true. Its users don’t seem to care, leaving it up to regulators and politicians to hold the company to account. What could possibly go wrong with that?

Plucky open-source social networking start-up launches redesign but loses young co-founder. Can it survive to challenge Facebook and Google Plus?

With an aim to expand its services on smartphones, the social networking giant has acquired MailRank, a year-old startup firm focused on prioritising e-mail, for an undisclosed amount.

The Pakistani authority’s blacklist of banned words on SMS is inadvertently teaching Pakistanis more swear words that they ever knew. Biatch we understand but what’s the problem with Nimbu sharbat?

A new report from Gartner shows that the Android OS now accounts for over 50 percent of all smartphones sold, pushing Symbian and iOS into poor second and third places.

The US copyright industry is pinning its anti-piracy hopes on the new Stop Online Piracy Act, but opponents are claiming that the bill could significantly disrupt the Internet.

A powerful trade body for America’s largest airlines, Air Transport Association, sued the Export-Import Bank of the United States on Wednesday to halt a pending deal for $3.4 billion in loan guarantees to debt-laden Air India.

As long as oil marketing companies have to bow to government pressure, the 15-day revision will only formalise the procedure to roll back any price hike over the next fortnight.

A lawyer representing 51 alleged victims of phone hacking by British tabloids laid out a litany of charges before the inquiry looking into press abuses including bribing, bullying and computer hacking.

Fitch Ratings said the 2012 outlook for most Indian telcos is negative, as the nationally-owned and six smallest private telcos will continue to suffer operating losses.

Kid-free zones are the last thing you’d expect in India where everyone is expected to worship at the temple of the child. But one mother says it might not be such a bad idea. Unless it’s carried too far.

Why did the High Court choose this particular instance to send a message to the media? There are many instances where the media could have acted with care, but this stay of the Supreme Court might have done more damage than good.

The umbrage in India over the Kalam episode seems more about the American arrogance in general and disrespect for India’s high profile individuals in particular. We have a false sense of self-worth.

The cracks in Team Anna are on full display. Now Anna’s former blog writer has come out hard against the rest of Team Anna in an interview. They aren’t just undemocratic, he says. They are also endangering Anna’s health.

Brent crude has soared to a near seven-month high of $114 per barrel, defying predictions that prices would collapse amid global uncertainty.

In the case of airlines, the most fundamental needs are pricing and punctuality. The ‘luxuries’ such as great food, more comfortable seating and extra leg-room come into play only AFTER these two needs are met. Kingfisher has never been able to achieve the fundamentals.

He said his visit to Pakistan would take place only when Pakistan takes solid steps against the Mumbai terror attack accused in that country.

Peter Roebuck, the former captain of English county Somerset and one of the finest cricket writers of his time, has been found dead at the age of 55 in his hotel in South Africa, the Sydney Morning Herald said Sunday.

The 2G spectrum scandal trial kicks off today with the Reliance groups executives in the dock. Will the witnesses stick to what they told the CBI?

The Indian government is “signaling” that it is likely to award a $1.5 billion contract to America’s Boeing for 22 AH-64D Apache Longbow attack helicopters for the Indian air force, said a US report.

James Murdoch’s defence during his second appearance before MPs investigating phone hacking at The News of the World didn’t settle questions about events and raised questions about his competence.

The prime minister said the current Saarc Summit is held at a time when the world is going through an acute financial crisis and hence enhance regional cooperation is needed to create opportunities.

The planned increments would also come at a time when an average of two out of every three employees are actively looking to switch their jobs.

Economist Nouriel Roubini feels Italy can only be rescued if the European Central Bank acts as a lender of last resort, cuts interest rates to zero and provides a fiscal stimulus and devalues the euro.

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